WhiteKnight2 Completes Taxi Test; New Mexico Spaceport OK'd

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Is a first flight imminent for the White Knight Two? When the huge double-hulled aircraft rolled out last summer in Mojave, the media was told to expect a first flight by the end of this year. This week, Flight International reports that at least one low-speed taxi trial took place last Friday at about 3 p.m. local time (click here for video), and the first flight may take place as soon as this Friday. The airplane was designed to carry space tourists for Virgin Galactic. WK2 will fly to about 50,000 feet with a spaceship suspended beneath its wing. The spaceship will then fall free and light a rocket to reach altitudes above 100,000 feet, where tourists can experience weightlessness and view the curvature of the Earth. This week, the age of space tourism took another step forward when the FAA issued a license for vertical and horizontal launches for Spaceport America, in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic is expected to sign a lease for the facility by the end of this month, and construction should begin early next year. The project will be the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the U.S.

Several commercial launches for various clients already have taken place at the site since April 2007, and more launches are planned. The terminal and hangar facility for horizontal launches are scheduled to be completed by late 2010.