Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has achieved another milestone on its race to become the first commercial spaceflight operator on the planet: its VSS Enterprise spaceship—yes, named for that Enterprise—has completed its first test flight, latched to the underside of a Scaled Composites White Knight Two carrier aircraft. The flight lasted lasted nearly three hours and climbed as high as 45,000 feet. If the results are promising, Virgin Galactic hopes to continue test flights and progress towards offering true commercial spaceflights—last we heard, the target date was 2011. After captive flights, the next steps are independent glides, then powered flight.
“This is a momentous day for the Scaled and Virgin Teams,” said Scaled Composites’ Burt Rutan, in a statement. “The captive carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely exciting and successful spaceship flight test program.”
The VSS Enterprise is the first ship in the “SpaceShipTwo” class, following on the SpaceShipOne rocket-powered aicraft that successfully completed the first privately-funded human spaceflight back in 2004, winning the Ansari X Prize. Virgin Galactic has already been pre-booking flights for the VSS Enterprise’s first flights; the vehicle carries two pilots and six passengers, and seats are valued at about $200,000 each. The company eventually plans to operate a fleet of five private spaceships.
Images: Virgin Galactic