Virgin Takes Another Step Toward Space Tourism


Pivoting off our post last week from founder Chris Michel who got a ride in a U-2, we learned that yesterday Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic company accomplished another milestone in its quest to open up space to commercial flight.

Virgin Galactic's space tourism rocket SpaceShipTwo achieved its first solo glide flight Sunday, marking another step in the company's eventual plans to fly paying passengers.

SpaceShipTwo was carried aloft by its mothership to an altitude of 45,000 feet and released over the Mojave Desert. After the separation, SpaceShipTwo, manned by two pilots, flew freely for 11 minutes before landing at an airport runway followed by the mothership.

The entire test flight lasted about 25 minutes.

I've always been a fan of this initiative, mainly because Branson has engaged the expertise of Burt Rutan, who founded Scaled Composits out in Mojave, Calif.I met Burt and toured Scaled Composits back in the day when they were working on Northrup Grumman's competitor to the Boeing UCAV. What an amazing place, chock full of smart, innovative people.
The six-passenger SpaceShipTwo is undergoing rigorous testing before it can carry tourists to space. In the latest test, SpaceShipTwo did not fire its rocket engine to climb to space.

Until now, SpaceShipTwo has flown attached to the wing of its special jet-powered mothership dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Sunday was the first time the spaceship flew on its own.

Branson is devoting millions to the quest of space tourism. And if anyone can help him get there, its the 10-pound brains at Scaled Composits.


If Branson and Rutan's scheme works, who knows what the implications are for defense and commercial applications.

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