Virgin unveils its White Knight
THE design of White Knight Two (WK2), a space system based on the SpaceShipOne, which successfully flew into space for the third time in 2004, has been launched by Virgin Galactic.
The construction of the WK2 mothership or carrier aircraft, is very close to completion at Scaled Composites in Mojave, California, and is expected to begin flight testing in the summer of 2008.
It is the world’s largest, all carbon composite aircraft; it has a unique high altitude lift capacity, capable of launching SpaceShipTwo and its eight astronauts into sub-orbital space flight.
The WK2 mothership is powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A engines. The WK2 mothership has also been designed to be capable of lifting other payload and launching it into space.
Both Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic believe the system has sufficient lifting capability to launch unmanned vehicles designed to carry small satellites and other scientific payload into low earth orbit.
SpaceShipTwo is now nearly 60 per cent complete.
Virgin Galactic now has more than 200 people booked for a flight with around 85,000 registrations of interest to fly. The deposit base now exceeds $30million, representing more than $45million of future income.
Astronaut orientation for spaceflight is progressing well and already 80 of SpaceShipTwo’s first passengers have been through medical assessment and centrifuge training at the NASTAR facility in Philadelphia.
Commenting on the unveiling, Burt Rutan, CEO of Scaled Composites said, “This required us to produce a safe but flexible design capable of multiple applications in new market sectors. I am confident that these vehicles, now in an advanced stage of construction, will achieve just that. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the whole team at Scaled Composites. “Looking up – way up!” is an expression we have shared since the X Prize began and now we are all excited that this year the dream will start to become a very tangible reality for everyone involved.”
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic said, “The designs of both the mothership and the new spaceship are absolutely beautiful and surpass any expectations for the future of commercial spaceflight that we had when first registering the name Virgin Galactic in 1999.”
“We are all very excited about the prospect of being able to develop a bio-fuel solution for the space launch system and we are looking forward to working with Pratt and Whitney and Virgin Fuels to trial an appropriate bio mix for the PW308A engines that will be powering our new carrier aircraft.”
A model of the final design for Spaceport America was also put on public display for the first time. Situated in Sierra County, New Mexico, Spaceport America will be the world’s first custom designed private spaceport. It has been designed with environmental considerations and its structure will use a combination of geo-thermal, solar and wind power to create a very low carbon footprint.
Virgin Galactic is also looking at the opportunities of operating from other locations worldwide and is already investigating the feasibility of operating from Spaceport Sweden.
At ITB Berlin, Will Whitehorn, president, Virgin Galactic, will be speaking on Friday at the ITB Aviation Day in Hall 7.1 a, Auditorium New York 3, from 1630 on ‘Commercial Aviation Market Space’. He will discuss the first suborbital space flights scheduled for 2009 among other topics.