October 11, 2010

Commercial Spacecraft Completes First Manned Flight

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (SS2), the world's first commercial spacecraft, successfully completed its first solo manned flight on Sunday, the company behind the vehicle's development has announced.

SpaceShipTwo, also known as VSS Enterprise, completed a 25 minute test flight and reached an altitude of 45,000 feet before landing at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California, Virgin Galactic said in a statement. Flying the ship was pilot Pete Siebold and co-pilot Mike Alsbury.

"The VSS Enterprise was a real joy to fly, especially when one considers the fact that the vehicle has been designed not only to be a Mach 3.5 spaceship capable of going into space but also one of the world's highest altitude gliders," Siebold said.

"This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin," added Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the company. "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. Now, 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."

According to their October 10 press release, Virgin Galactic's commercial spacecraft also completed several other key objectives, including verification that all of the craft's systems worked up until release from the WhiteKnightTwo rocket (also known as Eve), verification of the SS2's stability and lift-to-drag performance ration, and the completion of a successful descent and landing.

A runway inauguration ceremony is set for October 22 at Spaceport America in New Mexico, and the event will also include a flyover by SS2. Furthermore, according to the company, 370 customers have already placed deposits for the $200,000 seats on the commercial spacecraft.

"To see the world's first manned commercial spaceship landing on a runway is a sight I always dreamed I would behold," Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said. "Now, our challenge going forward will be to complete our experimental program, obtain our FAA license and safely bring the system into service at Spaceport America, New Mexico."

"We're not far off booking out our first year of operations," Stephen Attenborough, head of astronaut relations, added in an interview with BBC News. "We'll see exactly how many we decide to fly in year one, but the intention has always been around 500. We're well on our way to that."


Image Caption: VSS Enterprise glides fantastically back towards Mojave Space Port. Photo by Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic


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