Mojave (CA) – Following low-speed maneuvers earlier this month at the Mojave air and spaceport yesterday, Burt Rutan’s next generation privately funded spaceship, called SpaceShipTwo, has been brought one step closer to reality. It’s mother ship, called WhiteKnightTwo, which will carry SpaceShipTwo, took off yesterday on her maiden flight.
The sub-orbital aircraft has four Pratt and Whitney engines. During earlier testing, only two engines were fired. However, following slow ramp-ups to higher speeds and a nose-lift the day before, yesterday the aircraft took to the air.
The maiden flight went off without a hitch as the latest addition to Virgin Galactic, the world’s only spaceline company, came to life. The plan includes Virgin Galactic continuing tests of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. Once successful, the company will begin offering space-tourists trips into low Earth orbit.
The craft is funded by billionaire Richard Branson as an extension of the Virgin airline company. Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne successfully made a flight into low Earth orbit on June 21, 2004 and claimed the $10 million X-Prize as the first privately funded craft to achieve that goal.
Note also that it cost Rutan more than $10 million to build the original SpaceShipOne craft. This endeavor is not suffering from any lack of funding, however, as Branson’s interest in space tourism is very high. He is looking to extend his airline company with this future space-tourist endeavor.
SLIDESHOW (4 pictures):
WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo
Wired also has an interview with Richard Branson and Burt Rutan from July, along with some close-up pictures of the craft.