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Sat, Mar 28, 2009

'Eve' Has Legs: WhiteKnightTwo Achieves Fastest And Longest Flights Yet

SS2 Carrier Ship Flies Over 2.5 Hours At Over 18,000 Feet

Virgin Galactic said Friday the test flight program for WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), the space launch vehicle being developed for the company's SpaceShipTwo (SS2) commercial spacecraft, has now completed its third successful test flight.

The recent flight the longest and fastest to date, with a duration of over two and half hours, maximum speed of 140 knots and an altitude of over 18,000 ft. The flight also saw seven more tests successfully completed -- including in-flight engine restarts, engine thrust asymmetry assessment and continued expansion of WK2's operating envelope and evaluation of WK2's handling qualities.

Christened "Eve" in honor of Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson's mother, WK2 is the world's largest flying all-carbon composite aircraft. Designed by Burt Rutan and built by Scaled Composites, the twin-fuselage, thin-winged aircraft looks like nothing else flying, and is designed to launch as many as four spaceflights per day onboard SpaceShipTwo.

In addition to launching SS2, WhiteKnightTwo will also be used to train paying astronauts ahead of their SS2 flights. It also has a range of science applications, including the potential to launch an unmanned rocket capable of putting a satellite into low Earth orbit.

"This is a truly remarkable aviation vehicle and, although it might look unique from the ground it is not strange to fly in any way and is in fact a great piloting experience," said test pilot Peter Siebold, who has flown all three missions to date. "Now the stratosphere is the limit as we will continually test Eve (WK2) for the next few months up to her ceiling of above 50,000 ft."

"WhiteKnightTwo really is an impressive vehicle and it represents the apogee of the application of carbon composites to aerospace, all of us at Scaled are tremendously excited by its capabilities," added Rutan. "I believe the vehicle will be developed and sold for a variety of launch applications beyond the initial requirements of Virgin Galactic."

FMI: www.virgingalactic.com, www.scaled.com

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