Private spacecraft makes first crewed flight
Richard Branson's private commercial spaceship has made its first crewed flight.
The VSS Enterprise - the first member of Virgin Galactic's fleet of SpaceShipTwo spacecraft - flew over California's Mojave desert. It was the third flight for the Enterprise, and the 33rd for the mothership.
It did not reach space, achieving an altitude of 45,000 feet, and remained attached to the WhiteKnightTwo mothership.
During the six-hour and 12-minute flight, test pilot and flight engineer Peter Siebold and crew member Michael Alsbury were on board while various systems tests were carried out by ground crews.
Mark Stucky, Peter Kalogiannis and Brian Maisler crewed the VMS Eve mothership.
"For the first time, the two crew members on board VSS Enterprise evaluated all of the spaceship’s systems and functions from end to end in the air," says Virgin Galactic. "Objectives achieved."
Flight tests will continue throughout this year and next before commercial operations start. The next stage will be to uncouple the spaceship from the mothership and carry out independent glide flight, to be followed by powered flight.
Virgin Galactic will offer flights for $200,000. The company has already taken around $45 million in deposits from around 330 customers. It is building a new terminal at the Spaceport America site in New Mexico.
Flights will carry six people at a time to a sub-orbital altitude, allowing a zero-gravity experience - as well as beautiful views of Earth.