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Virgin Galactic's first commercial spaceship makes maiden flight

March 22, 2010 |  7:16 pm

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Credit: Virgin Galactic


Commercial space travel moved a little closer to reality Monday when Virgin Galactic’s mother ship and rocket plane took to the skies for its first "captive carry" test flight at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

The carrier aircraft, which resembles a flying catamaran because of its two fuselages, and the six-passenger rocket plane, dubbed SpaceShipTwo, are beginning a test flight program that will continue until Virgin believes it can begin commercial operations.

Instead of launching a rocket into space, the carrier craft will fly SpaceShipTwo under its wing to 50,000 feet, where the spaceship will separate and blast off.  The craft will climb to about 60 miles above the Earth's surface. At that suborbital altitude, passengers will experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth. The price for the experience: $200,000.

“The captive-carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely exciting and successful spaceship flight test program,” said Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, which engineered the spacecraft, in a statement.

Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, hopes to make its first passenger flight from the yet-to-be finished Spaceport America in New Mexico by 2011. The company said it has taken about 330 reservations for the experience.

“It comes as no surprise that the flight went so well,” Branson said in a statement. “Today was another major step along that road and a testament to U.S. engineering and innovation.”

-- W.J. Hennigan

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