Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo first flight delayed to year's end

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The maiden flight of Virgin Galactic's Scaled Composites' designed WhiteKnightTwo mothership has been delayed, possibly to the end of the year.

When the aircraft was rolled out at Mojave air and spaceport based-Scaled on 28 July, Virgin Galactic announced a September first flight target for its all-composite prototype mothership - named Eve, after Sir Richard Branson's mother.

The development programme for the mothership, which can carry up to 17,000kg (37,400lb) to 50,000ft (15,250m) will continue well into 2009 when it will start captive flight tests of the prototype suborbital ship, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), the roll-out for which is expected in the first half of next year.

white knight two roll out 28 july 
 © Alan Radecki
WhiteKnightTwo roll out at Mojave

"There have been various taxi trials outside the hangar already, but undertaken at night. The first flight trials will take place when we are ready and will definitely be this year and possibly within the next few weeks," says Will Whitehorn, the suborbital spaceline's president.

Virgin Galactic is planning its commercial suborbital flights from 2010, three years later than the original 2007 start date announced in 2004. It will operate from Spaceport America, to be built in New Mexico. The request for proposals for the spaceport's construction contract has now been published.

At this year's Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Whitehorn said he expected to fly WK2 into the event next year and that it may be carrying an SS2.