Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Informaion on WhiteKnightTwo has released new details about Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, learned in an interview with Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic. The original article can be read here.

In short, we already knew that the first WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, named Eve, would be unveiled next month after Scaled Composites completes its construction. New details include the makeup of the craft and it's planned flight test program. Except for the blades and undercarriage, WhiteKnightTwo is made entirely of carbon composite - right down to the wiring. This material, from which the name Scaled Composites is derived, is incredibly light while also being as strong as or stronger than the metal alternative.

Will Whitehorn admitted that when the construction of WhiteKnightTwo was beginning, the company still wasn't sure that it would follow through with a tourist spaceflight program. They apparently justified this through the fact that WhiteKnightTwo potentially has many other uses besides space tourism. The light structure, massive payload, and high-altitude capabilities of the craft make it ideal for the launch of microsatellites to low earth orbit, as a platform to perform microgravity experiments, or as a "water bomb" craft to fight fires.

However, it seems that Virgin Galactic has had a goal of selling a year's worth of tickets before its first tourist spaceflight is launched, and it is well on its way to exceeding that goal. They have apparently sold 254 tickets, with initial payments of anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000. This gives Virgin Galactic about $36 million in the bank and the go-ahead to move forward with the space program.

The first WhiteKnightTwo, once it is rolled out, will undergo extensive flight testing before tourist flights begin. Right now, they're looking at 130 to 150 test flights, though that number may be reduced if everything goes well. Once the first WhiteKnightTwo rolls out, it will be ground tested until September, when its first flights should begin.

And I'm sure looking forward to seeing that on the TV.

Progress: 3.73%  Flight Time: 0:05:35

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