Space Tourism Carrier Plane Returns to the Air

September 16th, 2010

WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo launch system. Credit: Virgin Galactic

 The WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) is back in the air after a landing incident on August 19th.

The WK2 is the mothership that totes to drop altitude the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) suborbital spaceliner – a six passenger, two pilot craft now under development for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company.

A recent announcement by Scaled Composites – builder of the WK2/SS2 launch system at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California – stated that the unique airplane suffered some damage when the left hand main gear partially retracted on landing some three weeks ago. Pilots onboard were able to abort the flight, with the vehicle coming to rest on the tip of the left vertical tail and left nose gear.

According to a news statement released by Scaled Composites, numerous tests and inspections have taken place in the last several weeks. “We have made minor modifications to the gear to add a fail-safe redundancy for any eventualities.”

The novel carrier plane made its 38th flight on September 13 – a functional check flight to shake the cobwebs off after three weeks of downtime and prove-out the newly configured gear.

“Because our ultimate goal is to keep SS2 flight test schedule progressing forward at pace, the mothership may be flying the next couple flights with the gear down and locked until we can fully test the new gear mechanisms,” said the Scaled press statement.

Shake-out flights of the WhiteKnightTwo – along with an attached SpaceShipTwo — are leading to an eventual drop test of a piloted SS2, one of multiple test flights to ring out the aerodynamic characteristics of that vehicle prior to moving into commercial operation.

Eventually, Virgin Galactic will be flying passengers on suborbital space treks from the now under construction Spaceport America in New Mexico.

By Leonard David