Virgin Galactic rolls out new Mothership

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Commercial space venture Virgin Galactic has unveiled the plane which will launch its SpaceShipTwo orbital craft..

Dubbed the "WhiteKnight2," the twin-fuselage craft will be responsible for carrying the new spacecraft to heights of some 48,000 feet before its launch into orbit. The first of the WhiteKnight2 crafts has been christened " Mothership Eve" in a tribute to Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson's mother.

"The rollout of WhiteKnightTwo takes the Virgin Galactic vision to the next level and continues to provide tangible evidence that this most ambitious of projects is not only for real but is making tremendous progress towards our goal of safe commercial operation," said Branson.

"Virgin Galactic is central to our ambition at Virgin to become the world’s leading group in the operation of energy and environmentally efficient transportation, in the air, on the ground and in space."

The craft sports a wingspan of some 140 ft, the largest ever for a carbon composite aircraft.

Eve will have to wait some time before taking her maiden commercial flight with the spacecraft. SpaceShipTwo is not scheduled to be completed until at least 2009 and it will only begin ground testing later this fall.

In addition to the SpaceShipTwo duties, Eve could also serve as a launch point for other small spacecraft and satellites.The plane is capable of carrying a maximum weight of 30 per cent more than a fully-loaded SpaceShipTwo craft.

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