The company's VSS Enterprise spacecraft, designed for space tourists, completes a critical mission.
Virgin Galactic, the U.S.
company developing the world's first commercial manned space flight system and
tourism business, announced the successful completion today of the first
piloted free flight of SpaceShipTwo, named the VSS Enterprise. The spaceship was
released from its mothership at an altitude of 45,000 feet, according to
company information, and glided to land at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California
During its first flight, Pete Siebold, assisted by Mike Alsbury as co-pilot,
piloted the spaceship. According to Virgin, the two main goals of the flight
were to carry out a clean release of the spaceship from its mothership and for
the pilots to free fly and glide back and land at Mojave.
Other objectives of the flight were also completed, including verification
that all systems worked prior to and following the clean release of the 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 of a landing approach
at altitude and finally descend and land.
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, was present during the first
successful flight. "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," he said. "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."
Preparations for the milestone flight were extensive. The WhiteKnightTwo
mothership (Eve) flew 40 times, including four captive carry flights of
spaceship and mothership mated together. The most recent captive carry was on
Sept. 30. The most recent solo flight was on Oct. 5 and demonstrated that all
the systems required for a free flight by the VSS Enterprise were functioning
correctly without any safety issues.
"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 world's highest
altitude gliders," Siebold said.
Virgin Galactic said it is now well on the way to becoming the world's first
commercial space line, with 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
Oct 22. 2010, according to a company release.
"To see the world's first manned commercial spaceship landing on a
runway is a sight I always dreamed I would behold," said George
Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, who was
also present at the flight. "Now, our challenge going forward will be to
complete our experimental program, obtain our FAA license and safely bring the
system into service at Spaceport America,
Nathan Eddy is Associate Editor, Midmarket, at eWEEK.com. Before joining eWEEK.com, Nate was a writer with ChannelWeb and he served as an editor at FierceMarkets. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.