Space Ship II, White Knight II - projects, flights, info


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26 May 2006
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Hi-rez pics and whole bunch of other stuff
some more stuff

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Interesting artilce from the Economist

Knight in shining armour
Jul 31st 2008 | MOJAVE
From The Economist print edition

Private space tourism is just the beginning

A COMPANY called Scaled Composites is to aircraft makers what Ozwald Boateng is to tailors. If Sir wants something bespoke but slightly outlandish, Sir has most definitely come to the right place. Burt Rutan, the firm’s founder, supervised the construction of Voyager and GlobalFlyer, two aeroplanes that flew non-stop around the world. But of the 39 craft that have been built and tested at its base in Mojave, California, since 1974, none is more extraordinary than White Knight Two.

White Knight Two is not merely an aircraft. It is the first stage of a spaceship. “Sir”, in this case, is Sir Richard Branson—or, rather, Virgin Galactic, one of his companies. What Virgin has ordered is the largest carbon-composite plane yet constructed. It consists of a single wing 43 metres (140 feet) long (an engineering feat in itself), fitted with twin booms and fuselages. The second stage, the less imaginatively named SpaceShipTwo, will be slung in the middle of the wing and lifted to an altitude of 15km. There, it will be released. It will then make its own way to the edge of outer space, to the acclamation of six fare-paying passengers.

At $200,000 a seat, that should be good business. Often, however, the most interesting thing about a new technology is not what it is designed to do, but what it can do that was not in the original specification. And, according to Virgin Galactic’s president, Will Whitehorn, the possibilities there are growing by the day. A variety of large objects other than SpaceShipTwo could be slung under the wing of White Knight Two. One application being explored is flying replacement engines for Boeing 747s around the world. White Knight Two could also launch small satellites into space at a cost of less than $2m each. And it would be a good way of taking pilotless reconnaissance drones to otherwise inaccessible places and then launching them. In the past two months Mr Whitehorn has, he says, been approached by 14 large organisations interested in using White Knight Two or buying a plane just like it. Purchasing one outright would cost $35m-40m.

The craft is surprisingly acrobatic, too. That means it is able to offer passengers zero-gravity flights. At the moment, a Boeing 727 provides such flights commercially for the Zero Gravity Corporation, a travel company. But the 727 is an ageing and thirsty vehicle. Mr Whitehorn reckons that, subject to the appropriate permissions, White Knight Two could offer zero-G flights for around $1,000 each, a fifth of the fare now charged.

Alan Stern, until recently the associate administrator of science programmes at NASA, America’s space agency, reckons the combination of White Knight Two and SpaceShipTwo could also revolutionise the study of atmospheric physics. Routine flights into the upper atmosphere by White Knight Two on its own would offer opportunities for regular experimental work at high altitude. That would make it possible to study the heart of the ozone layer. But the combined craft would also allow access to the “ignorosphere”, a frustrating region 50-80km above the Earth’s surface that is too high for conventional aircraft and too low for satellites. This would permit the study of so-called noctilucent clouds, the highest in the atmosphere, which are thought to have an important role in climate change. White Knight Two and SpaceShipTwo, says Dr Stern, could fly more experiments to noctilucent clouds in six months than NASA has managed in 40 years. The $200,000 price of a ride is about a tenth of the cost of the small, unmanned “sounding” rockets now used to investigate this region.

Perhaps the most intriguing research to come out of the White Knight project, however, is in aeronautic design. Pending patents, Mr Rutan is cagey about the details. But he says that building the aircraft has demonstrated something “very significant” about the main structural support on a wing (known as a wing spar) and that, as a consequence, his company’s technology will allow the construction of an aeroplane of “any size”.

If true, that is very interesting indeed. In theory, White Knight Two already has the capacity to carry a single-passenger spaceship that is capable of getting not just into space, but into orbit. Carrying one person into orbit in this way is probably not commercially viable. But if a larger high-altitude jet could be built, larger orbiters would also be possible. “We’ve made layouts of subsonic launch airplanes that could put six people in orbit off this airport,” he says. But the next-generation aircraft would have to be bigger. “Much bigger. Much bigger,” says Mr Rutan, with a twinkle in his eye.
WK 3 / SS3 will look like this ? (see Picture)

that CXV from T-Space
a company working closely with Burt Rutan

this Plane is called VLA (Very Large Aircraft ::) )
carry CXV and QuickReach 2 booster (LOX / Propane pressure-feed techniques)

picture of VLA are no longer on T-Space Homepage
but one is on this Webpage ;D


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BTW, does anybody know about that book: SpaceShipOne: An Illustrated History?

In April of 2003, a company called Scaled Composites lifted the veil of secrecy from a longtime research program and introduced SpaceShipOne to the world. And the age of commercial space travel took off . . . like a rocket. This book chronicles the development of the world’s first commercial manned space program--a program that includes an airborne launcher (the White Knight), a space ship (SpaceShipOne), rocket propulsion, avionics, simulator, and full ground support. With ample illustrations, photographs, and behind-the-scenes information, SpaceShipOne provides a full picture of this classified project--from the conception and design to the deals that brought together Scaled Composites’ Burt Rutan and Virgin Airlines’ Sir Richard Branson to the plans for building a fleet of commercial suborbital spaceships and launch aircraft.

I'm considering to order a copy but I'd like to know if it is a good book

Thanks in advance

It's a very good buy. Very well illustrated with plenty of good pictures. But pictures only tell half the story. The text is very well-written and in-depth in telling the story of Spaceship One. I recommend this book.

Thanks a lot James. It has been included in my amazon next order :)
Apparently this one has now been flying for a while:,2933,535059,00.html??test=faces
news from Virgin Galactic

they wana use White Knight II als first stage for small Satellite launcher
for 50 kg payload in low orbit for 1 milion U.S. dollars

source german news,1518,654855,00.html


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Here's the real McCoy.


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I don't think Alan will mind if I post some of his pics here:


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Well, it'll be interesting to see how a Dyna Soar-type configuration handles in the actual flight regime.
According to another thread the above VLA designs are by Gary Hudson and drawn by SpaceMax:

SpaceMax said:
That design is not Rutans, it's Gary Hudsons. Scaled would not (and still won't) release it's VLA concept just yet.
I saw Rutans VLA concept a year ago, it's even bigger and weirder than the illustrations you've posted depict.
Hudson needed a depiction of a carrier aircraft for some briefings and sketched this concept for a t/Space carrier aircraft.

I know this as I did those illos you posted.

However, there are some published details of Scaled's design for a 'Custom Launch Aircraft' (CLA) in the following paper: Selection of a Carrier Aircraft and a Launch Method for Air Launching Space Vehicles by Marti Sarigul-Klijn Ph.D., Nesrin Sarigul-Klijn, Ph.D., Gary C. Hudson, Bevin McKinney, AirLaunch LLC; Jim Voss, Phil Chapman, Transportational Space Corp.; Bob Morgan, Jim Tighe, Jason Kramb, Scaled Composites LLC; Ken Doyle, Mike Quayle, Protoflight LLC; Charlie Brown, Space Vector Crop. Presented at the AIAA SPACE 2008 Conference and Exposition, San Diego, California, Sep. 9-11, 2008 (downloadable from

The CLA looks like a scaled-up WK2 or rather, I suspect, WK2 is a scaled down CLA. The paper says the CLA had a takeoff gross weight 60% larger than a 747 and could take a 680,000 pound payload to 50,000 feet and launch at Mach 0.7.

The WK2 design changed to the current twin hull configuration between Sep 2005 & June 2006 (from info published by Virgin Galactic). I thought Scaled's work on the t-space project was in 2004/5, at least that's when the lanyard drop-tests were done, but don't know why the above paper didn't appear until 2008.

Update: added as attachment CLA picture from the referenced paper

Update June 8th, 2010: Gregory (flateric) has found a great Rutan presentation from 2007, which includes the following image that looks like the CLA:


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SOC said:
Apparently this one has now been flying for a while:,2933,535059,00.html??test=faces

I had a chance to see it from long distance at the Edwards Open House (I was stuck in traffic getting in, but had binoculars). Very, very impressive aircraft. It was doing aerobatics and very high bank angle turns. I was shocked.
WK2 carried SS2 to the air for the first time today.
Three pictures of this first flight as taken by my pal Alan Radecki, who works as a photographer for Northrop Grumman:


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Scaled have now created a new flight log for SS2 test flights:

The entry for this week's flight is below. Looking forward to lots of new entries in the next 18 months!

Combined Flight Test Legend:
CC = Captive Carry
L = Launch
G = Glide
P = Powered

WK2 Flight 25 / CC-01
22 Mar 10

Flight Time:

2.9 hr

Captive taxi handling
Speed/altitude envelope expansion
Captive performance, stability and control evaluation
SS2 systems Evaluation
Photo and video

All objectives achieved. Systems performed as designed. Kudos to the entire team for executing an exceptionally clean and successful first captive flight!
WhiteKnightTwo will still fly even if it breaks in half ... at least that's according to a model by Dan Craig (?) of Scaled and video shown by Burt Rutan at the recent AMA (see from about 6:50mins in the eighth segment of video in my post,9684.0.html).

Now that's what I call having in-built safety margins for all phases of flight ;D
Fascinating stuff! Dan Kreigh (R/C model maker extraordinaire) is one of Burt Rutan's best assets, if often overlooked.
Virgin Galactic have just published a document (attached) with some info on SpaceShipTwo's flight profile, flight rates etc (although I think much of it has been published before). For example, the separation altitude of SS2 from WK2 is confirmed as about 45,000ft and the nominal apogee with passengers and crew is 360,000ft (110km).

The document is in response to a NASA RFI for commercial resuable suborbital research. The NASA web page containing VG's response (and others) is at

Update: NASA website been reorganised, info now accessible from; there is also a spreadsheet at that summarises all the responses


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Ok so this is probably going to make me look an idiot ... but I saw a report yesterday suggesting SS2 is being prep'd for another flight. We will see!

Moderators if I'm wrong please delete this message ;D
FutureSpaceTourist said:
Ok so this is probably going to make me look an idiot ... but I saw a report yesterday suggesting SS2 is being prep'd for another flight. We will see!

Moderators if I'm wrong please delete this message ;D

No mistake there. SpaceShipTwo's second captive-carry flight took place yesterday morning (May 16) at Mojave (where else?!) as seen in these pictures, taken by Northrop Grumman photographer Alan Radecki:




The full set of photos can be seen on Alan's gallery page at so make sure to check it out!
Stargazer2006 said:
The full set of photos can be seen on Alan's gallery page at so make sure to check it out!

Fantastic! Many thanks for publishing the link - Alan's photos are great, as ever (and you've scooped many of the NewSpace sites on the 2nd SS2 flight as well :)).

I have seen a bit of commentary on the 'long' pause - 8 weeks in the end - between SS2 captive flights and wondering if there's a problem. People seem to forget that there were 10 weeks between the first two captive carries of SS1!
Scaled's log for the second SS2 captive carry is below. Lots of SS2 tests so hopefully won't be too long before they do another captive carry with someone in SS2.

[quote author=Scaled flight log]
FlightWK2 Flight 27 / CC-02
Date:16 May 10Flight Time:4.7 hr

SS2 pressurization evaluation
SS2 electrical system evaluation
SS2 avionics performance evaluation
SS2 approaches
Post-Flight cold soaked systems testing

All objectives achieved. SS2 was pressurized and powered from the mothership in flight. Peak altitude was 51,000 ft which allowed for a long cold-soak to evaluate the robustness of the hardware. A simulated Spaceship decent/glide mission was made from altitude to high key. Several approaches followed for pilot training/proficiency.
Thanks to Alan Radecki, we can play a game of spot the difference between SS2 on its first and second captive carry flights (see pictures below).

The VG artwork for SS2 has always shown something in that position so I was interested to see that SS2 didn't have anything there to start with. Reminds me of some issues they had during flight test of SS1.


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