I do hope Branson’s venture becomes a Harvard Business School case study in entreprenuership.
Virgin Group head Sir Richard Branson unveiled the latest addition to his air- and spaceline fleet at the Mojave Airport in California today, accompanied by the craft’s chief designer, Burt Rutan.
The White Knight 2 is a four-engine jet that will carry an 8-seat spaceship called SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 48,000 feet so that the spaceship can drop off and fire its rocket engine for a brief run to suborbital space. Branson’s Virgin Galactic hopes to begin regularly scheduled passenger service to space in 2010.
White Knight 2, Branson, and Rutan: Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson (left) and air- and spacecraft designer Burt Rutan wave from the cockpit of the White Knight 2. Photo by Michael Belfiore
Rutan’s company Scaled Composites made history in 2004 with the world’s first privately funded manned spaceflights by its three-seat SpaceShipOne, which was carried aloft by the original White Knight. The White Knight 2 features two fuselages, each with its own cabin, connected by a single continuous wing arching between them, where the spaceship will ride. With the wing span of a B-29 bomber, it is the largest all-carbon-fiber aircraft yet built.
On hand to christen the White Knight Two outside a Scaled hangar was Branson’s mother, Eve. Not coincidentally, Eve is also the name of the mother ship. “If you’re going to name a mother ship,” Branson quipped to a gathering of perhaps two hundred reporters and dignitaries, including Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, “you might as well name it after your own mother.”