Virgin Galactic owns The Spaceship Company, whose aim is to take space tourists on trips to the edge of space by using a jet-powered mothership (Scaled Composites White Knight Two) to carry the SpaceShipTwo space plane to the required altitude before releasing it and allowing it to glide back to Earth.
On April 29th, Richard Branson’s dream of space tourism then took one step closer to reality after his first rocket-powered test flight was completed successfully. Although this was the vehicle’s 26th test flight, it was its first “powered flight,” with the plane achieving an altitude of 46,000 feet (14,000 meters) before SpaceShipTwo test fired its rocket engine and achieved Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 56,000 feet (17,000 meters) before returning back to Earth.
Commenting on the successful test, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, stated: “The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout. The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.”
The Virgin Galactic spaceline aims to have five SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes in service starting in 2014, and so far has around 600 passengers already booked at a cost of around $250,000 a piece. Theflight itself is expected to last 2.5 hours, although only a few minutes of that will actually be spent in space.