Virgin Galactic sets out Year of the Spaceship

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Virgin Galactic expects its White Knight II (WK2) aircraft's last engine to be delivered in January and the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) carrier fully assembled by June for a July test flight in 2008, which it is calling the "year of the spaceship".

The timetable for Virgin Galactic in 2008 was outlined by its president Will Whitehorn at the 3rd Rutherford Appleton Laboratory space conference in Oxfordshire, UK on 6 December.

On 23 January the designs for the carrier aircraft and its spaceship will be unveiled and by March the SS2's simulator will be completed while construction of the first WK2 and SS2 so far is 60% and 50% complete, respectively.

"White Knight II will look more like the Virgin Atlantic Globalflyer. We have built all the models to show the public [the finished design in January]," says Whitehorn, adding that he wants to offer $3 million launches to low Earth Orbit for small satellites.

This launch service could use WK2 or a larger successor in the 2015 timeframe, which Whitehorn referred to as White Knight Three, using in either case a two-stage rocket that would place the payloads into orbits.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic is aiming to sign a commercial agreement this month for use of New Mexico's planned Spaceport America and a flight handling assessment of that spaceport will begin by January.

The company now has $30 million in fully paid tickets and deposits and 100 of its around 200 "signed customers" have experienced the SS2 flight profile in a centrifuge.