Pratt & Whitney Canada's PW308 turbofan engine is to power Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's (SS2) carrier aircraft White Knight II (WK2).

The maiden flight of WK2 with its two 6,900lb-rated (30kN) PW308 high by-pass ratio engines is planned for next year, however the company does not specify a date for start of commercial operations, which was to be May 2009.

SS2 and whiteknight W445
©Virgin Galactic

 Virgin Galactic's concept White Knight II, SpaceShipTwo system concept

The engine was selected by The Spaceship Company (TSC), a joint venture between the Virgin group and Scaled Composites, which will own the intellectual property rights to the WK2/SS2 launch system.

"The PW308 is a great engine for our new launch aircraft," says Scaled Composites chief executive and TSC co-founder Burt Rutan.

The PW308 is classified by P&WC as a business and general aviation engine with two versions, the 308A and 308B.Virgin Galactic is the launch customer for the Scaled/TSC developed WK2/SS2 system and has orded five SS2s, with options for a further seven, and two WK2s.

White Knight II will carry an SS2 to 50,000ft (15,200m) to launch the six-passenger, two-pilot suborbital vehicle, which will then fly to above 100km (62miles) before gliding back to a runway.

Virgin Galactic has $25 million in deposits for its flights costing $200,000 per passenger.

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