The commercial space travel industry has advanced to another level of its birthing process.
Virgin Galactic announced that its commercial spaceship, VSS Enterprise, successfully completed its first “captive carry” test flight, taking off Monday morning from Mojave Air and Spaceport in California.
The spaceship, unveiled to the public for the first time on December 7th, remained attached to its mothership, VMS Eve, for the duration of the two hour-and-54-minute flight, achieving an altitude of 45,000 feet. In commercial flights, VSS Enterprise will blast away from the mothership and climb to an altitude of 70 miles -- considered the threshold of space.
Both vehicles are being developed for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, by Scaled Composites. Founded by Burt Rutan, Scaled developed SpaceShipOne which in 2004 claimed the $10m Ansari X prize as the world’s first privately developed human-flown spacecraft. Virgin Galactic’s new vehicles share much of the same basic design but are being built to carry six fare-paying passengers on sub-orbital space flights, providing what Virgin calls "an out-of-the-seat zero gravity experience and offering astounding views of the planet from the black sky of space."
Virgin Galactic reports it has already taken around $45 million in deposits for spaceflight reservations from more than 330 people. Tickets are $200,000 a piece, which would have been the equivalent of the first Mercury astronauts of the early 1960s paying about $30,000 for their rides if they were personally billed for the experience.
The VSS Enterprise test flight program will continue though 2010 and 2011, progressing from captive carry to independent glide and then powered flight, prior to the start of commercial operations, which may commence in 2012.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com