(Sen) - Today Virgin Galactic's spaceship took to the sky above California for the first time, attached to its mothership.
The flight is part of a long period of testing of the Virgin Galactic spaceship system for sub-orbital flights. The Virgin Galactic system consists of a mothership ("WhiteKnightTwo") and a rocketship that will carry 6 passengers and 2 professional astronauts ("SpaceShipTwo").
The first mothership has been named VMS Eve (Virgin Mother Ship Eve) after Sir Richard Branson's mother. The first SpaceShipTwo was named VSS Enterprise (Virgin Space Ship Enterprise) on its unveiling on 7 December 2009 by Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Governor Richardson.
During today's flight from Mojave spaceport VSS Enterprise remained attached to its mothership. The mothership takes off like a normal aeroplane and eventually will carry the spaceship to approximately 50,000 feet at which point the spaceship will detach and rocket itself and its passengers to 360,000 feet (about 110km). The Virgin Galactic space ship has been designed and built by Scaled Composites.
Over 330 people have signed up and paid deposits for a flight into space on board Virgin Galactic, and today's test flight is yet another positive step for those pioneers who are looking forward to their space trip. Today's flight is the first step in a long test and safety programme that will be undertaken throughout 2010 and 2011 progressing from captive carry to independent glide and then powered flight prior to the first flights commencing. No specific date has been set for the first flight but it is thought that it will take place by 2012.
Commenting on the flight, Burt Rutan, the designer and builder of the space ship, said: “This is a momentous day for the Scaled [Composites] and Virgin 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, Founder of Virgin Galactic added: “Seeing the finished spaceship in December was a major day for us but watching VSS Enterprise fly for the first time really brings home what beautiful, ground-breaking vehicles Burt and his team have developed for us. It comes as no surprise that the flight went so well; 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.”