Virgin Galactic's baby  (Source: Virgin Galactic)

Galactic Girl  (Source: Virgin Galactic)
Virgin Galactic aims big with its White Knight Two

Virgin Galactic is now giving the public a first glimpse of the WhiteKnightTwo spaceship carrier that will be responsible for ferrying the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft into orbit.

During an event at the Mojave Air Space Port, White Knight Two designer Burt Rutan, British entrepreneur and Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson, and Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, along with thousands of spectators and media, were on hand to publicly view the new craft.

“WhiteKnightTwo represents the apogee of the application of carbon composites to aerospace and all of us at Scaled are tremendously excited at the capabilities of the Mothership for SpaceShipTwo," Branson said during the event. "I believe the vehicle will be developed and sold for a variety of launch applications beyond the initial requirements of our launch customer, Virgin Galactic. We have set up a new business jointly with Virgin, The Spaceship Company (TSC), to develop these vehicles and we very much hope that its efficiency will herald a wake up call to the aerospace industry and the necessity of using new materials and technologies in the future. “

White Knight Two, called Eve to pay respect to Branson's mother, has an impressive wing span of 140 feet, and is a twin-boom aircraft that will one day transport the SpaceShipTwo up to 48,000 feet in altitude.  

It can fly coast to coast across the United States nonstop while powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A engines.  Fuel capacity allows it to launch four daily spaceflights or to ferry the SpaceShipTwo across the United States once.

To help with fuel efficiency, the entire craft is made of carbon fiber composite, except for the landing gear and engines.  Branson and company hope the new spacecraft helps launch a new era of private, environmentally friendly space travel.  

Along with the space port in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic has plans for launch sites in Sweden, Spain and somewhere in Asia.

The suborbital flight will have a max of 2 or 3Gs rather than 5Gs, so older flyers or disabled people will be able to go on the trip.

Space tourism has grown in popularity the past several years, with a select few private companies trying to take space tourism to the next level.  Today's public unveiling is four years after the SpaceShipOne became the first ever private rocket to reach space.  SpaceShipOne helped win the Ansari X Prize in 2004, with the research team receiving $10 million prize.

Even though a date for the company's first launch has not been set, at least 250 customers have paid the $200,000 fee or put a deposit down to fly on the maiden trip, Virgin Galactic said.  Each SpaceShipTwo will be able to take up to six passengers per flight.

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