Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites showed off SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo to the media today. According to the dynamic duo, who are about the set the space tourism industry on fire, SpaceShipTwo is about 60-percent complete and WhiteKnightTwo is approximately 70-percent complete.
WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), which will be the largest commercial aircraft made from composite materials, will carry SpaceShipTwo (SS2) up to 60,000 before SS2 will ascend into suborbital space.
Both WK2 and SS2 are being built so that they may accommodate two flights per day. SpaceShipTwo is being designed so that it can tolerate the worst case scenario upon reentry into the atmosphere, meaning nose first, belly first or even upside down. Branson is not claiming that WhiteKnightTwo will be as safe as modern day aircraft, however, as he likens the flight upon SS2 to aircraft in the 1920s when the industry was just getting started.
Both SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo will be ready later this year for their first test flights and are expected to be available for public flights are early as 2009. Branson says the two aircraft will have open architecture in that those who wish help in developing other commercial spacecraft based upon WK2 or SS2 will be welcomed.
Branson’s ambition is to build 40 to 50 such aircraft, which will be able to accommodate over 100,000 passengers.