Virgin Galactic has taken its suborbital spaceship, the VSS Enterprise, for its first spin. On Sunday, the Enterprise was carried to an altitude of 45,000 feet by a larger “mothership,” and was then successfully released for a long, slow glide back to the Mojave Air and Space Port. The solo test flight is a step towards the day when the Enterprise will carry not only test pilots but also six space tourists up to the edge of space, where they’ll experience a few precious moments of weightlessness and a killer view.
When it eventually enters service, Enterprise will be carried to its launch altitude by the “Eve” carrier plane before being released in mid-air. Enterprise will then ignite its single hybrid rocket engine to make the ascent to space. Although Eve and Enterprise have made several test flights together, Sunday was the first time the spaceplane had been released at altitude. [BBC News]
Hit the jump for more info and video footage of the historic flight.
This test flight was intended to test the mothership’s release mechanism and the Enterprise‘s flight-worthiness. According to Richard Branson, the British billionaire behind the company, the test was a great success:
“This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin. For the first time since we seriously began the project in 2004, I watched the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on the runway at Mojave Air and Space Port and it was a great moment.” [Virgin Galactic]
A seat on the Enterprise will cost $200,000, and apparently people are willing to pay up: Virgin Galactic has reportedly taken deposits from 370 customers thus far.
George Whitesides, until recently chief of staff at NASA, and now CEO of Virgin Galactic, says: “Our challenge going forward will be to complete our experimental program, obtain our Federal Aviation Administration licence and safely bring the system into service at Spaceport America in New Mexico.” On the ground, things are moving fast, too: an inauguration ceremony for the Spaceport America runway is due to be held on October 22. [New Scientist]
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