Sir Richard Branson preparing to take his first flight. (Picture courtesy of Mark Greenberg.)
Sir Richard Branson preparing to take his first flight. (Picture courtesy of Mark Greenberg.)
The interior of the craft. (Picture courtesy of Mark Greenberg.)
The interior of the craft. (Picture courtesy of Mark Greenberg.)
Eve flying over Oshkosh. (Picture courtesy of Jim Koepnick.)
Eve flying over Oshkosh. (Picture courtesy of Jim Koepnick.)

VMS Eve (also known as WhiteKnightTwo) is a twin-hull all-carbon composite vehicle designed to launch the spacecraft SpaceShipTwo above heights of 50 000 ft. Both Virgin Galactic vehicles offer the opportunity for 'space tourism' and scientific research applications as well as a platform for launching small satellites.

VMS Eve is the world’s largest all carbon composite aircraft.

On the second day of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh (the world’s largest private air show, 27 July-2 August 2009, Wisconsin, USA), during Eve's second flight demonstration, Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, joined the crew, marking his first flight aboard the vehicle.

“This has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life," said Branson afterwards. "It’s a beautiful aircraft to fly and its incredibly light carbon construction and efficient design points the way to a much brighter future for commercial aviation as well as the industrial revolution in space which I believe our entire space launch system heralds.”

VMS Eve has already undertaken 16 test flights prior to Oshkosh. It has logged 50 hours of flying time and achieved an altitude of 52 400 ft. It has the capacity to carry six passengers in its starboard hull. Its port hull is pressurised and can carry scientific instruments and other experimental payload.

Flight testing of the new spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, will commence before the end of 2009.

The VMS Eve carrier vehicle is expected to make its first flight with SpaceShipTwo attached by the end of 2009.

The development of the new Virgin Galactic vehicles is being carried out by Scaled Composites, the Mojave, California, based aeronautical firm owned by Northrop Grumman and led by Burt Rutan. Scaled Composites designed and built SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million X Prize in 2004 as the first privately funded, manned space vehicle.

Partnership agreed

On the second day of the air show, it was announced that Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments will take an equity stake in Virgin Galactic. To date, Virgin Galactic has been wholly owned and funded by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

Under the deal, Aabar will invest approximately US$280 million and take around a 32% stake in Virgin Galactic’s holding company, valuing the business at about $900 million. Aabar also has plans to build spaceport facilities in Abu Dhabi.

Virgin Group has invested over $100 million in Virgin Galactic since its formation in late 2004.