WhiteKnightTwo's first flight could be by 15 December and April 2009 is SpaceShipTwo's likely roll-out date, according to sources within the Virgin Galactic programme.

Flightglobal.com has also learned that aircraft integration issues with WK2's four Pratt & Whitney Canada PW308A engines held up the maiden flight that had been planned for mid-2008. That first take-off is expected to take place this month.

At the 4th Appleton space conference on 4 December at the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn declined to confirm a date for the planned first take-off, but told Flight: "Very soon, it will fly very soon. There was one day there was a hop down the runway, it was over Thanksgiving."

He added that the US Federal Aviation Administration had already given authorisation for the flight. The FAA was unavailable to confirm that. Whitehorn denied that the roll-out of SS2 was set for April, but informed sources have told Flight that the second-quarter date, later than originally planned, was because the spaceline decided it wanted the spacecraft to be unveiled attached to the WK2.

Source: Flight International