WhiteKnightTwo Rolls Out For The Press, Look For It Next Year At Oshkosh

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WhiteKnightTwo, the huge double-hulled aircraft that will carry SpaceShipTwo and its cargo of space tourists to 50,0000 feet, rolled out to the public for the first time Monday morning at Scaled Composites in Mojave (click here for AVweb‘s exclusive on-scene video, live today). Shortly afterward, Will Whitehorn, CEO of Virgin Galactic, spoke with reporters at AirVenture in Oshkosh, via a Web link to the EAA Museum. Whitehorn said he expects that by next July, WhiteKnightTwo will be flying in to Oshkosh. First flight is expected by the end of this year, he said, and a thorough test regime lasting up to two years, with at least 100 flights, is planned before the ship goes into commercial service carrying tourists into space. Whitehorn said that while Virgin is the launch customer for the first two WhiteKnightTwos, he expects there is a wider commercial market for the aircraft, which has the capacity to transport large cargo items, to launch satellites, and also could launch a ship carrying a single person into orbit.

WhiteKnightTwo is the largest carbon-fiber aircraft ever built, with two cabins that can each hold eight seats, plus eight more in SpaceShipTwo. At 50,000 feet, it will drop SpaceShipTwo, with eight on board, to ride its rocket into suborbital space. Whitehorn said that altitude is optimal for the spaceship to get the most thrust while still having aerodynamic control to get the nose pointed up, but it would be possible for WhiteKnight to fly much higher if needed for other missions. Its two cabins are identical, Whitehorn said, and both can carry eight seats. Only the right side is pressurized and equipped for flying. The other side can be used to haul cargo or passengers, and he suggested that on a typical flight the ship might carry future space tourists for training purposes, and fly parabolas on its way down to give them a simulated zero-g experience.

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