SpaceShipTwo’s (SS2) carrier aircraft White Knight 2 (WK2) is to be unveiled in the third quarter of 2007 and immediately begin flight testing, according to Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn.
Speaking at the Farnborough air show on 17 July Whitehorn expects to fly WK2 to the recently renamed Southwest Regional Spaceport in New Mexico, now called Spaceport America, during its subsequent flight tests. Testing will operate from Mojave airport.
SS2 and WK2 (visualised above in a conceptual drawing from Flight International's 1 July space tourism feature Touching the void) developer Scaled Composites, based at Mojave airport, has begun construction of the first carrier aircraft and first spaceship, following the recent delivery of “several millions of dollars worth of composites.” However SS2’s reveal is still expected sometime after WK2’s.
SS2’s interior though will be unveiled on 28 September this year at the Wired Nextfest event in New York city, and Virgin Galactic’s first accredited travel agency will be announced soon.
Outlining the timetable for the unveiling of WK2 and SS2, Whitehorn said: “White Knight 2 will be displayed in July or August next year. [Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF] Fairford wanted White Knight there but it will not be ready for an air show until 2008. Next year we will display it and then begin testing.”
Virgin Galactic now has $15.6 million in full ticket sales and various levels of deposit payments, for operations that will begin in 2008 from Mojave’s spaceport and then move to Spaceport America in late 2009 or early 2010. The New Mexico government expects the spaceport to be fully operational by 2010.
In sales Whitehorn says the company is generating a $1 million a month and he expected that to continue until the SS2 and WK2 unveiling and then he expected that to accelerate.
Whitehorn’s vice president for astronaut relations, Stephen Attenborough is predicting 500 paid customers by the first commercial flight in 2008. Attenborough also said that the first senior member of a Royal family has recently signed up for a flight.