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Virgin Galactic pushes test dates back

Virgin Galactic's leadership pushed back the flight test and in-service dates for the space tourism company's suborbital launch system, just before the SpaceShipTwo (SS2)-related test explosion on 26 July that killed and injured employees of the vehicle's developer Scaled Composites.

Speaking at the EAA AirVenture event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on 24 July Virgin Galactic chief operating officer Alex Tai announced a new in-service date of "end of 2009, beginning of 2010". Since 2004 the start date has steadily slipped from early 2007, to 2008, to May 2009, and now late 2009 or 2010.

At the Farnborough air show last year Virgin Galactic's president Will Whitehorn told Flight that July or August 2007 was the roll-out date for SS2's carrier aircraft White Knight II (WK2) followed by SS2 in the fourth quarter.

Speaking at AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Whitehorn outlined new roll-out and flight-test dates: "We plan to unveil the [WK2/SS2] design in the early part of [next year] and roll WK2 out by the middle of the year. SS2 should be flying by the end of next year."

Flight testing for SS2 was to have started in May next year with commercial operations beginning 12 months later. Tai is now expecting at least 12 to 18 months of flight testing, pushing a commercial start date into 2010.

The extended development period brings into question the $200 million-plus cost originally declared for the design, testing and construction of the five SS2s and two WK2s Virgin Galactic has ordered.

By 27 July Scaled had not placed a statement on its website about the explosion that took place at a location away from its faciity at Mojave airport.

Confirming the work being conducted before the explosion as part of the SS2 development programme Whitehorn told Flight International,'s sister publication: "It didn't involve the [SpaceShipTwo] rocket motor. We won't comment further until the results of the investigation by the relevant authorities. This will delay [the development programme]."

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