Virgin Galactic completes first test of SpaceShip Two

by Kelly MacNeil on October 11, 2010

For years, Sir Richard Branson has been attempting to lay the groundwork for the space tourism industry. On Sunday, his company, Virgin Galactic, took a large step forward when SpaceShip Two made a test flight over the California desert. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the company hopes to have the aircraft available for tourists by 2011.

While there are still a series of more comprehensive tests yet to come for the spaceship, which is referred to as VSS Enterprise, the project’s head engineer, Burt Rutan,expressed his happiness with the results, including pilot Pete Siebold’s landing.

“Pete was able to just kiss the ground with it,” Rutan told FastCompany.com. “When you do that, and you’ve never flown the airplane before – never landed it – what that tells you is that you’ve got a phenomenally nice flying machine.”

Although it was billed as a success, the test flight in the very basic stages. According to the news source, the Enterprise was dropped from its mother ship at about 45,000 feet. From there, it glided to the ground, and experts say the next step is to implement rocket tests.

Branson claims that the ultimate goal of the spaceship is for two pilots to take six passengers on a ride to the official boundary of space, which is about 62 miles above the earth’s surface. It is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it will not come cheap. Tickets on the Enterprise are expected to cost around $200,000.

This newest spaceship is the second such project that Virgin Galactic has undertaken. In 2004, the company took flight with a similar aircraft and won the X Prize, a space flight competition, for reaching the 62 mile boundary and completed the first privately-funded space flight.

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