Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo made its first captive carry flight early this morning at the Mojave Air and Space Port. SpaceShipTwo, which was christened the VSS Enterprise at its unveiling in December, is being carried by WhiteKnightTwo on its first test flight.
According to Aviation Week, SpaceShipTwo has been undergoing ground testing with WhiteKnightTwo recently, but this is the first time the two aircraft have left the ground. SpaceShipTwo is expected to go through a similar flight test program as its much smaller predecessor, SpaceShipOne, but with much more rigorous and wider ranging evaluations in order to certify the vehicle for public use.
During SpaceShipOne’s development, two captive carries were followed by several glide tests where the space ship is released from several different altitudes to evaluate its flight characteristics. After glide flights, the flight test team at Scaled moved on to powered flight, eventually culminating with the first flight into space on June 21, 2004, Wired News reports.
The sleek, six-passenger ship, called VSS Enterprise, remained attached to its carrier aircraft throughout the two-hour, 54-minute flight.
Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of billionaire Richard Branson's London-based Virgin Group, has collected about $45 million in deposits and fares from more than 330 aspiring amateur astronauts, each of whom will be charged $200,000 to experience a few minutes of suborbital spaceflight.
Enterprise was designed and built by Burt Rutan, founder of Mojave-based Scaled Composites, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman.
Test flights are scheduled through 2011, with commercial operations targeted to begin in 2012, Reuters reports.