Yesterday Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s private spaceflight company, unveiled WhiteKnightTwo, designed to carry the smaller SpaceShipTwo 15.5km above the Earth before flinging it (along with its cargo of six passengers and two pilots) on its journey into space. The new WhiteKnightTwo has been christened “EVE” after Sir Richard’s mother.
WhiteKnightTwo is based on the prototype White Knight, which together with SpaceShipOne won a $10mil prize in October 2004 when it was successfully launched to the edge of space, at 100km above the Earth. This success lead to Virgin Galactic commission the spaceship’s designer Burt Rutan to develop WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo with his company Scaled Composites.
WhiteKnightTwo is to begin test flights in the coming months, so it can be ready to carry SpaceShipTwo into the sky. Scaled Composites are nearing completion on the craft and they expect it to join its larger sibling in 2009.
Around 250 seats have been sold on Virgin Galactic flights so far, at a cost of $200,000. Sir Richard and his family plan to be aboard the maiden voyage which is set to take place in late 2009 to early 2010. Personally I wish them all great success, as going into space has always been a dream for me. I just hope the prices fall to affordable levels in the next few decades!