Virgin spaceship makes first free flight

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Sir Richard Branson's VSS Enterprise spaceship made its first manned free flight yesterday, gliding from 45,000 feet to a textbook landing at Mojave Air and Spaceport.

Piloted by Pete Siebold, with Mike Alsbury as co-pilot, the ship is on target to become the world's first manned commercial space vehicle.

The pilots successfully carried out a practice landing at altitude before bringing Enterprise in for the real thing on the runway. The company says all systems worked well throughout.

The WhiteKnightTwo mothership, known as Eve, has flown 40 times already, including carrying out four captive carry flights of spaceship and mothership mated together.

"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," sauds Siebold.

Virgin Galactic has already pocketed $50 million in customer deposits from 370 people. In future, it will fly from Spaceport America in New Mexico, where the runway is nearing completion, with an inauguration ceremony scheduled for Friday 22nd October 2010.

"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," said Virgin founder Richard Branson.

"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."

Tickets for a jaunt on the Enterprise will cost $200,000, with commercial flights starting in about eighteen months' time. George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, says the next stages are to complete the experimental program and obtain an FAA licence.