Business mogul Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin America airlines, has his eyes on the stars after his space venture, Virgin Galactic, rolled out the White Knight Two (WK2) carrier aircraft in late July. The WK2, formally christened “Eve” in honor of Branson’s mother, is the mothership designed to ferry private astronauts, science projects and payload into space. The WK2 is the world’s largest all-carbon composite aircraft, designed by Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites LLC, Mohave, Calif., a developer of aeronautics and specialty composites.
Details about the composite technology are closely guarded, but the requirements for commercial space flight include strength, flexibility and light weight. Carbon-based nanofibers integrated into various matrices add strength without excessive weight, and are in high demand in an aviation industry desperate for more fuel-efficient strategies. At 140 feet, the WK2’s wing spar is the longest single carbon composite aviation component ever manufactured.
The WK2 will tow Virgin Galactic’s previous completed SpaceShipTwo into suborbital space, maximum altitude of more than 50,000 feet. The weight, mass and volume of the payload will vary. Branson plans four daily space flights, and has reached agreements for spaceports in Sweden and New Mexico. The first 100 paying passengers attended the WK2 roll-out, ready for the new venture to get off the ground. For more information, visit www.virgingalactic.com.