White Knight 2 (WK2), the carrier aircraft under development by Scaled Composites for Virgin Galactic, will be rolled out on July 28, Virgin’s Will Whitehorn announced Thursday morning at the International Space Development Conference in Washington, DC. He didn’t announced the location of the rollout, but presumably it will be in Mojave, as he said test flights of the aircraft would not begin until August or September. (Interestingly, it is the day before Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson are scheduled to appear at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh “with SpaceShipTwo”.) This date had been predicted for a few weeks, such as by Rob Coppinger at Flightglobal.com.
Whitehorn, interestingly, was playing up the alternative uses of WK2 in his talk, noting that, in addition to launching SpaceShipTwo, it could be used for air-launching rockets for putting small satellites into orbit, for science, even for cargo and as a “water bomber” for fighting forest fires. He described these applications in part as a “fallback” should SS2 fall through in some way.
He added that, as noted by Flightglobal.com earlier this month, Virgin had considered flying a version of SS1 first (which he dubbed “SpaceShipOne B”). However, they rejected the idea because SS1B would be too small to allow people to float around the cabin, and that was something their customers were very much interested in. Moreover, he said, there would be few other applications for an SS1B besides tourism. That desire for weightlessness forced them into designing a larger vehicle that could accommodate customers’ desires for weightlessness as well as support additional applications.
Whitehorn had little to say about the status of the SS2 propulsion program in the wake of the accident last summer that killed three Scaled employees. He said there had been “lessons learnt” from the accident and that they were moving ahead, but offered nothing more specific.
Check out RLV and Space Transport News for additional notes about Whitehorn’s talk as well as other ISDC presentations.