Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, AKA the VSS Enterprise, reached a major milestone on Sunday when it achieved free flight, achieving itsfirst piloted gliding flight. Released at 45,000 feet by its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo AKA Eve, VSS Enterprise touched down some 11 minutes afterward. The spacecraft was not equipped with a rocket motor for the test.
The VSS Enterprise was piloted by Pete Siebold, with Mike Alsbury as co-pilot. In a press release, Siebold, said
"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 worlds highest altitude gliders."
The goals for the flight were for the craft to achieve a clean release of from the mothership and for the pilots to glide back and land. Both goals were accomplished.
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said the following:
“This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin. 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.”
Virgin Galactic expects rocket-powered test flights to begin next year, followed by test flights into space possibly by the end of next year.
SpaceShipTwo is expected to carry six passengers and two pilots on suborbital up-and-down flights that will initially cost $200,000 per ticket. Despite the expense, Virgin has already collected $50 million in deposits from 370 potential customers.
The price of such a "trip" is expected drop to tens of thousands of dollars, particularly as rivals such as Blue Origin, Armadillo Aerospace, and XCOR Aerospace join the space flight market.
You can watch a video previewing National Geographic’s upcoming Oct. 18th Virgin Galactic documentary below.