Virgin Galactic Tests SpaceShipTwo Tourism Rocket at Mojave Port
Virgin Galactic’s space tourism rocket, the SpaceShipTwo, took it’s first test flight over the California desert on March 22 under the wings of the WhiteKnightTwo, a twin-fuselage carrier aircraft.
The nearly 3-hour test at the Mojave Air and Space Port saw the SpaceShipTwo reach 14,000 metres while attached to the middle of the mothership.
The craft, unveiled 3 months ago and designed by Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites LLC, will progress to gliding through the air and then be improved with rocket power.
Seeing the finished spaceship in December was a major day for us,” said Sir Richard Branson, billionaire owner of the Virgin brand, “but watching VSS Enterprise fly for the first time really brings home what beautiful, groundbreaking vehicles Burt and his team have developed for us.
The original model of the rocket, SpaceShipOne, was the first privately developed, manned rocket sent into space in June 2004.
Branson and Scaled Composites LLC are developing passenger spacecrafts based on the SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo for intergalactic tourists. They will be called the Virgin Spaceship Enterprise and the Virgin Mothership Eve, named after Branson’s mother.
Commercial Space Flights Start in 2012
Tests of the crafts will run through 2011 before deep-pocketed passengers can use it commercially. More than 300 wealthy people have put down $200,000 to board the flight.
The mothership will reach 15,000 metres before releasing the 6-passenger rocket for it’s brief zero-gravity thrill ride. The Spaceship Enterprise will be flown by 2 crew members and reach supersonic speeds of Mach 3.
On “carefree re-entry,” tail booms on the end of the craft will rotate 65 degrees upward, slowing the descent into the lower atmosphere for a smoother landing.
Virgin Galactic Flights Taking Longer than Expected
When the program began—with $26 million in funding from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen—Branson believed space tourism would start in 2007.
That year, the program was delayed after an explosion during a ground test of a rocket, killing 3 workers and seriously injuring 3 more.