Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) made its first test flight on Sunday, Dec. 21, a 59min shakedown flight of the twin fuselage aircraft at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. WK2 climbed to a maximum altitude of 16,000ft (4,880m). “It reached an altitude 4,000ft above the original test plan’s maximum altitude,” said Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn. “That is how confident we are about the aircraft. Now we have to download all the data. There will be another flight early in the new year.” WK2 will carry Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo, the space plane that will bring passengers on suborbital flights, hopefully by 2011. FlightGlobal.com obtained exclusive video of the test flight, which can be viewed here.
The hour-long test flight of the four-engine WhiteKnightTwo used a skeleton flight crew. Previously last week, WK2 was taken out for four runs down the runway and a brief lifting of the nose gear on Dec. 20, and low-speed trips down the runway on Dec. 16 and 12.
Both WK2 and SS2 are being built by Scaled Composites of Mojave, CA, and Virgin Galactic has five SS2 rocket planes and two of the carrier crafts on order, with options on more. The WK2/SS2 combination will serve as the backbone for Sir Richard Branson’s suborbital spaceline company. The price per seat on the two pilot/six passenger suborbital SS2 is $200,000.
Virgin Galactic hopes to start operating commercially by 2011 from the New Mexico Spaceport America. The new spaceport, soon to be under construction, announced that it had received its license from the FAA for horizontal and vertical space vehicle launches on 15 December and it expects to be fully operational in 2010.