Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spaceship, the service that is vying to become the world’s first commercial space line, has made its first solo test flight in California under the watchful eye of British billionaire Sir Richard Branson whose company is responsible for the groundbreaking craft.
Carried by an aeroplane to an altitude of 45,000ft (13,700m), the Enterprise ship, which is based on the X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne vehicle that successfully flew to an altitude of 100km (60miles) in 2004 and has been adapted to carry two crew and six passengers, was then released to glide unassisted back to the Mojave Air and Space port.
The public space travel service being pioneered by Richard Branson and Virgin will soon be taking people willing to fork out $200,000 (£126,000) for the short hop experience that will take them above the earth’s atmosphere and offer a few minutes of weightlessness. To date 370 customers have placed deposits for the commercial space flights.
The next series of testing will see the Enterprise ship test its single hybrid rocket engine that, when the service launches, will ignite once detached from the carrier plane at launch height and boost the ship into its ascent to space.
Speaking at the test of the Enterprise Virgin Galactic ship, Sir Richard Branson said: "This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin.” He added: "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."
Stephen Attenborough, head of astronaut relations at Virgin Galactic also spoke positively of the developments to the first commercial space flight saying: "We're not far off booking out our first year of operations. We'll see exactly how many we decide to fly in year one, but the intention has always been around 500. We're well on our way to that."
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