The VSS Enterprise slung between the twin-fuselage WhiteKnightTwo. Image: Virgin Galactic.
Taking yet another step towards achieving commercial space travel, Virgin has successfully completed a test flight of its VSS Enterprise (a.k.a. SpaceShipTwo) high above California's Mojave Desert on Sunday.
Carried to an altitude of 45,000 feet by its accompanying WhiteKnightTwo mothership (a.k.a the Eve), the two pilots aboard VSS Enterprise then separated the revolutionary craft and flew for a total of 11 minutes before landing safely at the nearby Mojave Air and Space Port.
“It flew beautifully,” enthused George Whitesides, chief executive officer of Virgin Galactic after SpaceShipTwo had completed its historic flight test – the very first time it has flown without WhiteKnightTwo.
Once SpaceShipTwo is officially ready to begin ferrying (up to) six fare-paying passengers, it will use its own rocket engine to climb into space after being released from the mothership at 60,000 feet. According to Whitesides, more rigorous testing is yet to be completed before that can happen.
“The sky is no longer the limit, and we will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year,” said Virgin boss Richard Branson in an official statement. “This is one of the most exciting days in the history of Virgin.”
Seats aboard SpaceShipTwo are expected to cost $200,000 USD, which is a lofty price that hasn't deterred the 370 affluent customers who've already stumped up deposits totalling more than $50 million USD.