Last July Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2), the VSS Enterprise, made its first manned flight. For the duration of that flight, the spacecraft remained attached to its jet-powered carrier aircraft. But over the weekend VSS Enterprise left the protective grip of its mothership, VMS Eve, to successfully achieve its first manned free flight.
Carried to an altitude of 45,000 feet by its accompanying WhiteKnightTwo mothership (a.k.a VMS Eve), the two pilots aboard VSS Enterprise then separated the revolutionary craft and flew for a total of 11 minutes before landing safely at the nearby Mojave Air and Space Port. During its first flight the spaceship was piloted by Pete Siebold, assisted by Mike Alsbury as co-pilot. Other detailed objectives of the flight were successfully completed, including: verification that all systems worked prior and following the clean release of Enterprise, initial evaluation of handling and stall characteristics, qualitative evaluation of stability and control of SS2 against predictions from design and simulation work, verification of performance by evaluating the lift-to-drag ratio of the spaceship during glide flight and practice a landing approach at altitude and finally descend and land.
Once SpaceShipTwo (VSS Enterprise) is officially ready to begin ferrying up to six fare-paying passengers, it will use its own rocket engine to climb into space after being released from the mothership at 60,000 feet. According to George Whitesides, chief executive officer of Virgin Galactic, more rigorous testing is yet to be completed before that can happen.
Seats aboard VSS Enterprise are expected to cost $200,000. Virgin Galactic currently boasts 370 customer deposits totaling $50 million. Future commercial operations will be at Spaceport America in New Mexico where final preparations are taking place for a finished runway inauguration ceremony on Friday 22nd October 2010.