Monday, April 29, 2013

Virgin Galactic spaceship breaks sound barrier

Virgin Galactic announced today that its space vehicle, SpaceShip Two, made its first rocket powered flight. SpaceShip Two is a joint venture of Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, the aircraft design firm founded by famed designer Burt Rutan.

The flight, which took place at Mojave, California’s Mojave Air and Space Port, began with SpaceShip Two carried aloft by the WhiteKnight Two according to a news item on the Virgin Galactic website. The WhiteKnight climbed to 47,000 feet where SpaceShip Two was released approximately 45 minutes into the flight. After its release, SpaceShip Two’s rocket engine was ignited for a 16 second burn that propelled the spacecraft to 55,000 feet and Mach 1.2. SpaceShip Two’s independent flight lasted approximately 10 minutes, culminating in a landing at Mojave.

Today’s test of SpaceShip Two’s rocket engine begins the final phase of testing before SpaceShip Two enters commercial space service. The company plans to make a full space flight before the end of 2013. The date for commencing commercial spaceflight service has not yet been set, but the flights will depart from Spaceport America in Las Cruces, N.M.

The company is already taking bookings for its commercial spaceflights on its website. Pioneer status, which costs $200,000, guarantees the “Future Astronaut” one of the first 500 seats on SpaceShip Two. For those who don’t want to pay in full, a $20,000 down payment secures a spot on the waiting list after the first 500. Charters of SpaceShip Two are also available for $1 million. Virgin Galactic notes that since SpaceShip Two has six seats, a charter customer get six seats with Pioneer status for the price of five. The price of the flights also includes trips to see construction of the spacecraft, spaceflight training, and visits to Sir Richard Branson’s private island in the Caribbean, game reserve in South Africa, chalet in the Swiss Alps, and Moroccan mountain estate.

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