Virgin Galactic, the commercial spaceflight venture of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, said over the weekend that it has completed a piloted, free flight of SpaceShipTwo, the spaceship the firm is developing in Mojave. According to Virgin Galactic, it released the VSS Enterprise, its first vehicle, from an altitude of 45,000 feet over the weekend, and successfully landed at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The firm is working on commercializing the technology developed for the Ansari X-Prize in 2004, the first commercially developed spaceship to reach space.
Virgin Galactic is a joint venture of the Virgin Group and Mojave-based Scaled Composites, the design firm run by aerospace designer Burt Rutan. According to Virgin Galactic, the test flight verified that all of its systems are working, evaluated handling and stall characteristics of the vehicle, measurement of other characteristics, and practice landing and descent. Virgin Galactic said it now has 370 customer deposits -- worth $50M -- for trips into space, once the vehicle is complete. The firm is expecting to launch regular service from Spaceport America in New Mexico, once it gets an FAA license and completes its testing. (Image: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic)