WhiteKnightTwo by Virgin Galactic

| 13 comments

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Space tourism company Virgin Galactic have unveiled WhiteKnightTwo, a double-fuselaged aircraft that will carry a spaceship to sub-orbital flight.

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The craft will carry SpaceShipTwo from Virgin Galactic's New Mexico space port before releasing it 15km above the Earth's surface, from where the spaceship will take its paying passengers into orbit.

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WhiteKnightTwo, christened EVE after Richard Branson's mother, is expected to take its first flight with SpaceShipTwo next year.

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More stories about Virgin Galactic on Dezeen:

SpaceShipTwo
New Mexico spaceport

The following is from Virgin Galactic:

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WhiteKnightTwo launch vehicle for SpaceShipTwo heralds a new era in aerospace fuel efficiency, performance and versatility

At 140 ft, the wing spar is the longest single carbon composite aviation component ever manufactured.

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Driven by a demanding performance specification set by Virgin Galactic, WK2 has a unique heavy lift, high altitude capability and an open architecture driven design which provides for maximum versatility in the weight, mass and volume of its payload potential.

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It has the power, strength and maneuverability to provide for pre space-flight, positive G force and zero G astronaut training as well as a lift capability which is over 30% greater than that represented by a fully crewed SpaceShipTwo. The vehicle has a maximum altitude over 50,000 ft and its U.S. coast-to-coast range will allow the spaceship to be ferried on long duration flights.

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An all carbon composite vehicle of this size represents a giant leap for a material technology that has already been identified as a key contributor to the increasingly urgent requirement by the commercial aviation sector for dramatically more fuel efficient aircraft. Powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A engines, which are amongst the most powerful, economic and efficient available, WK2 is a mold breaker in carbon efficiency and the epitome of 21st century aerospace design and technology.

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The twin fuselage and central payload area configuration allow for easy access to WK2 and to the spaceship for passengers and crew; the design also aids operational efficiencies and turnaround times. WK2 will be able to support up to four daily space flights, is able to carry out both day and night time operations and is equipped with a package of highly advanced avionics.

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Rutan’s Scaled Composites facility has been strictly out of bounds whilst design and construction has been underway, but guests today were additionally given a tantalizing preview of SpaceShipTwo, clearly visible but heavily shrouded and well on its way to completion, in the smaller of Scaled’s two hangars awaiting its own rollout in 2009.

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Commenting on the rollout, Burt Rutan, Founder of Scaled Composites said:

“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. 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"

Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic added:

“As usual, Burt and the Scaled team have created a beauty and this is a very proud day for us all. The rollout of WhiteKnightTwo takes the Virgin Galactic vision to the next level and continues to provide tangible evidence that this most ambitious of projects is not only for real but is making tremendous progress towards our goal of safe commercial operation.

Virgin Galactic is central to our ambition at Virgin to become the world’s leading group in the operation of energy and environmentally efficient transportation, in the air, on the ground and in space. We are naming it EVE after my Mother, Eve Branson but also because it represents a first and a new beginning, the chance for our ever growing group of future astronauts and other scientists and payload specialists to see our world in a completely new light. I for one can’t wait!”

  • fuZzyOne

    crazy!

  • Bozo

    What could possibly go wrong.

  • edward

    Rutan’s a genius, but he’s letting it all hang out here. Happy Landings!

  • http://www.wmdlondon.com Will Mac

    I don’t like flying anyway and looking at these pics make my palms sweat

  • sam

    @ bozo: SNAP! (double entendre intended here…)

  • http://www.norse-solutions.com Arne Peder Blix

    Of course this will work.
    I have flown sail planes /gliders since I was 15. I have tried almost all possible and impossible manouvers with carbon fiber wings (including youngster mistakes). I can vouch for their strength.
    Later, I have made flying a hobby and regularly land sea-planes on glass-fiber floats which are only a fraction of the strength of carbon fiber.

    To further substantiate my qualified comment; I have been a submarine officer for three years and know a thing or two about the physics behind this.

    Take my word for it -this will work. The only question to ask is;
    Why didn’t NASA start with carbon fiber?

    I’d do anything to go up there – even as a test crew!
    I hope I’ll be able to afford it before I get too old.

    Brgds
    Arne Peder Blix
    -38 from Oslo, Norway

    (In a limitless universe, in an infinite of time, everything will happen).

  • cpcp

    Burt – i wanna be on you!

  • edward

    Composite construction has been know to delaminate in for instance, ocean racing cats. One assumes sufficient air trials before paying customers risk their expensive necks.

  • cpcp

    edward, yes its been known to delaminate – under compressive loads mainly. but concrete has been known to fracture in tension, as has glass, and, in general all materials are known to have their weaknesses.
    of course there are going to be air trials – did you follow the development of White Knight One at all???

  • edward

    “but concrete has been known to fracture in tension, “.. that’s why it’s reinforced with steel. But the composite struts on an F-1 car shatter on impact into shards that can cut a tire. And seems I read an warning about lack of crash testing on the Boeing composite under development. That from an ex- Boeing aero engr.

  • cpcp

    yes yes, F1 cars also shatter into shards that cause punctures (unfortunately for Lewis!), but thats the whole point – in a crash you want to dissipate the impact energy and direct it away from the driver. and the only way to do this is the let the material absorb the impact. and composite generally does fail catastrophically into shards.
    The skill of the engineer is to put this material in the right orientation and quantity and weave etc etc in the right place so that it can deal with the local stresses. in F1 cars, ocean racing yachts and, aerospace vehicles, there is a weight constraint, which affects performance. so you dont want to put excess material in where its not needed – so the material is placed very carefully to deal with speciofic loading cases only – those which occur during operation. leaving them weak in other scenarios. in the case of F1, the components are very strong and stiff if used properly, but break easily if they are subjected to a load which its not designed for.
    anyway. i dont really know much about this stuff, but i doubt you do either, and getting on here talking about how you assume this and assume that is really pointless. i doubt very much that such a groundbreaking vehicle – the first commercial space plane ever – would be designed and developed and tested haphazardly, particularly when its also pioneering an all composite construction. both virgin and scaled composites, you can be sure, are taking every possible measure to ensure that this will be every bit a success as its publicised to be.
    so yes, im sure there will be sufficient air trials – and with branson involved you’ll hear about them – they’ll be all over the news every step of the way to the first comm flight

  • edward

    blah, blah blah.

  • cpcp

    you know i’m right edward.