SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise makes maiden test flight – the first manned commercial spacecraft

March 23, 2010, By Thomas Antony

VSS Enterprise, the first SpaceShipTwo class spacecraft, and also the first manned commercial spacecraft, completed its maiden test flight, when it successfully landed at the Mojave Air and Spaceport. With this, British millionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson’s dream of affordable space travel is one more step closer to reality. The SpaceShip Company, which is a joint venture between Branson’s Virgin Galactic and aerospace designer Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, funded the development of the sub-orbital spacecraft.

In the maiden testflight, the spacecraft made a 2-hour, 54 minute flight on Monday, attached to the wing of its carrier aircraft, the WhiteKnightTwo, reaching an altitude of 45,000 feet. VSS Enterprise, which was officially unveiled to the public in December 2009, is expected to carry the first paying customer into space by the end of 2011 or early 2012. This could be the new era for the fledgling space tourism industry.

This very first captive carry was a huge success and both the mothership and spaceship looked absolutely stunning against the blue back drop of the Mojave skies.  Commenting on the historic flight, Burt Rutan said: “This is a momentous day for the Scaled and Virgin Teams. The captive carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely exciting and successful spaceship flight test program.”

Virgin Galactic is aiming for one flight a week, with six tourists on each flight. More than 200 applicants have already paid the $200,000 fee to book a seat for the ride. About 80,000 people have placed their names on the waiting list for seats. Some 300 of those have already given a total of more than $45 million as deposits. The spacecraft will be carried upto 50,000 feet on the carrier craft and dropped, so that it may fire its own rocket engines to reach an altitude of around 110 km ( 68 miles ). Passengers will be able to experience weightlessness for around 5 minutes, after which the spacecraft will re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and glide to a landing at the Mojave spaceport.

Branson also hopes to develop on the technology to create new superfast intercontinental transportation systems by flying through suborbital routes at hypersonic speeds. This would for example, allow for a 2 hour trip from London to Sydney.

VSS Enterprise’s test flight programme will continue through2010 and 2011, progressing from captive carry, to free gliding to powered flight, before start of commercial operations. Virgin Galactic plans to start flying customers aboard the craft on a regular basis after completion of up to 100 test flights.

Source : Virgin Galactic

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