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Virgin Atlantic’s SpaceShip two flies free for first time

Bryan Alaspa's picture

The billionaire who owns the Virgin company, Richard Branson, got a little bit close on Sunday afternoon to bringing the world commercial space flight. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, a rocket propelled airplane, was set loose and flew under its own power above California’a Mojave Desert. It did not start its rockets, it only glided down from 45,000 feet to then land safely to a round of cheers.

The plane is being built by a company called Scaled Composites, which is headquartered in the Mojave Air and Space Port. The ship is a follow up to the groundbreaking SpaceShip One that won a prize as a commercially made spaceship that took a pilot into the first edges of space and the outer-edges of the Earth’s atmosphere. After that flight Branson took an interest an invested $100-million-dollars into Virgin Galactic with the goal of bringing commercial spaceflight to the masses.

Not long after Branson announced his intentions of bringing a bout commercial spaceflight people began signing up to be on some of the first flights. More than 300 have signed up to become passengers to ride that plane. The flight plans for those flights include a rocket ride that will take passengers 65 miles into the air and will also include several minutes of weightlessness. The plane is supposed to have large windows that would show passengers the curvature of the Earth and the sky above them will be black like space.

An expensive trip

The price of a ticket on those flights is expected to be very high, to start with. The first tickets that have been sold cost in the range of $200,000 per seat. Tens of thousands of dollars are well within the realm of possibility later on. Of course, there are other companies now in the hunt to bring about commercial space flight and the costs could come down.

On yesterday’s flight the SpaceShip Two was attached to its “mothership” which is a larger plane that can carry the space ship into the air. When the two planes reached their flight level of 45,000 feet, SpaceShip Two was released from beneath the mothership. The spaceship then glided through the air for 11 minutes and managed to land safely back on the airstrip from where it had taken off.

Although the feat seems small, it is a key success in the development of the commercial space vehicle. The plan is for the ship to do more manned glides in the months ahead. The plane will be adjusted and fine-tuned. The plan is for the plane to eventually be made ready for manned, commercial space flights by 2012 or 2013.

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