First flight of Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo to take place in two weeks

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Very exciting news here, and you can see a forum thread here as well. Quoting from the article referenced in the thread:

Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo is set to take is maiden flight in the next two weeks. The flight will be the first of dozens planned for the high-altitude craft, which could become the first privately-owned vehicle to carry tourists to the edge of space.

The high-altitude plane is designed to loft an eight-passenger craft called SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 15 kilometres.

There, the spaceship will detach from WhiteKnightTwo and fire a rocket to take passengers some 100 km above the Earth, where they will experience several minutes of zero gravity (see illustration). The pair are scaled-up versions of a carrier plane and spaceship that won the $10 million Ansari X prize for private spaceflight in 2004.

Since WhiteKnightTwo's unveiling in July, the plane has passed engine and runway tests and taken small hops off the ground. The vehicle, which was developed at Scaled Composites in Mojave, California, is now ready to take off, says Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn.
If WhiteKnightTwo's test flights go well, the firm plans to begin carrying SpaceShipTwo into the air in mid-2009. In its first solo flights, SpaceShipTwo will gently glide back to Earth without firing its rockets, slowly exploring its ability to reach suborbital space.

To ensure safety, WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo may require 100 to 200 test flights before the pair are ready to accept passengers, Whitehorn says.

This testing regime should still put the firm on track to take its first passengers to the edge of space as early as 2010, Whitehorn says.

Virgin Galactic has accumulated some $40 million in deposits from almost 300 interested space farers since the company began selling tickets in 2005.

As I commented on a few days ago, the aerospace industry is one of the few industries that is having no problems expanding even in the current economic climate, and the reasons why this seems to be the case to me is that:
  • The aerospace industry is often closely connected to national prestige and security for a large number of nations, and
  • The private aerospace tourism industry at the moment is funded all by people that by definition don't suffer during bad economic times; that is, people that can afford to pay a few hundred thousand to tens of millions of dollars for a ticket into suborbital space or LEO.


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