The dream of privately-operated space flight took another step toward reality yesterday when Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo successfully completed its first captive flight attached to the twin-hulled WhiteKnight, reaching an altitude of 45,000 feet. The second generation spacecraft from Scaled Composites lifted off at 7:05am from the Mojave Air and Space Port.
Scaled Composites founder and legendary aerospace designer Burt Rutan said it was a momentous day for the Scaled and Virgin Galactic teams: “The captive carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely exciting and successful spaceship flight test program.”
Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic was equally pleased with today’s flight and said it was no surprise the ground-breaking vehicle flew so well. He said: “The Scaled team is uniquely qualified to bring this important and incredible dream to reality. Today was another major step along that road and a testament to US engineering and innovation.”
Virgin Galactic says it has already taken in around $45 million in deposits for space flights from more than 330 people. The test program for SpaceShipTwo will continue through the rest of the year and 2011. There has been no announcement of a date for the first commercial flight carrying paying customers.