WK2 first flight in 2-3 weeks

At the ISPCS in Las Cruces this morning, Michael Blum, managing director of Repulse Bay Capital and a customer of Virgin Galactic, revealed some new details about the testing schedule for WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo that came out of a meeting held on Richard Branson’s Necker Island retreat recently. WK2 has recently performed some high-speed taxi tests at Mojave, and the first flight of the aircraft is planned for 2-3 weeks. Video of that flight, he said, will be released to Virgin’s customers and the public shortly thereafter.

After that, the first “captive carry” flights of SS2 and WK2 are scheduled to take place in June of 2009. (On these flights, SS2 will remain attached to WK2 throughout the plane’s flight.) By the end of 2009 the first powered flights into space of SS2 are scheduled. Blum said that there will be at least 30 test flights of SS2 before Virgin makes a decision about beginning commercial operations. He added that he thought the company was being very cautious, not wanting to rush the development of the vehicle and cause a “catastrophic” accident that could set back the suborbital spaceflight industry a “couple of decades”.

Blum also repeated some existing medical statistics about Virgin’s customers, with 92-93% of them passing medical tests. He reiterated the need for training, especially 0-g flights, to avoid “sensory overload” during the actual suborbital flights.

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