Actuator forces WhiteKnight Two diversion from spaceport ceremony

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An actuator alarm led Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnight Two mothership prototype Eve's pilots to land at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport today, diverting the aircraft from its intended destination of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The mothership was to overfly the ground breaking ceremony for Spaceport America, which is to be located 72km (45 miles) from Las Cruces city, and will be the world headquarters for the spaceline Virgin Galactic when it is operating commercially by 2012.

The prototype aircraft departed Mojave air and spaceport at 0804h Pacific Daylight Time and was to overfly the ceremony, taking place at the site of the proposed spaceport, at about 1130h local time but instead it landed at 1018h Mountain Standard Time, the local time zone, for Phoenix-Mesa Gateway at the regional airport.

Phoenix-Mesa Gatewey told Flightglobal, "It is sitting on our cargo ramp. They [the pilots] don't want any pictures taken of it."

Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn explained to Flightglobal by email what happened, "WhiteKnight Two left California on Flt10 cruising at 47,000ft, an actuator warning light came on so they made a tech stop in Pheonix Arizona so now [they are] doing the flight later as there are two days of events here."

The flight from Mojave to Las Cruces follows a successful ninth test flight on 15 June at Mojave air and spaceport that saw the mothership reach 52,400ft (15,980m), close to SpaceShip Two's air launch altitude.