The launch vehicle that Virgin Galactic will be using as part of its two-stage approach to sub-orbital spaceflight is the WhiteKnightTwo (also known as WK2), with the first one christened VMS Eve after Richard Branson‘s mother and the second one will be named after Steve Fossett, that other adventurer who sadly had a less than fortunate encounter with fate in 2007.
Developed by Scaled Composites under the umbrella of The Spaceship Company, the first WhiteKnightTwo was revealed to the public for the first time in July 2008 and the prototype has since made over 100 test flights. As a design, it is hard to miss. WhiteKnightTwo features a unique twin fuselage ‘catamaran’ design with an unswept single piece wing. This catamaran airframe configuration allows for flexible payload placement and configuration.
For the full technical specifications, you can download the pdf here. It is a true aviation milestone: the largest all carbon composite aviation vehicle ever built with an amazing 140 ft wing span, capable of carrying heavy payloads (up to around 16 tons) to high altitudes (around 50,000 ft, or over 15 km). Putting that in perspective, that payload is about equal to what an Arianne 5 rocket can launch into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).