Space tourism moved a step closer to reality with the longest ever flight of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo passenger craft. In the flight, the space plane glided from atop its carrier airplane, the WhiteKnightTwo, and landed at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
Developed by Scaled Composites at the Mojave facility, the space plane is hoped to become the first privately owned spacecraft that will take ultra-wealthy space tourists outside the earth’s atmosphere to see the final frontier.
SpaceShipTwo is not designed to orbit the earth, but rather will enter outer space to give six passengers at a time who will pay about $200,000 each a glimpse of the earth from outer space plus a taste of what it’s like to be weightless, free of the earth’s gravitational pull.
As Space.com reported, the recent flight of SpaceShipTwo was from its highest altitude ever. After being released from its carrier airplane, the space plane spend more than 14 minutes in flight before touching down at Mojave. This was the fifth flight of the craft, dubbed the VSS Enterprise.
Although every flight of SpaceShipTwo has been non-powered, engineers have successfully test fired the rockets that will propel the vehicle into space. According to reports from Scaled Composites, the space plane will soon fire its engine while in flight as the project moves slowly but surely toward commercial viability.
Even as work continues on the Virgin Galactic project at the Mojave spaceport, a new space facility, Spaceport America, is being prepared to be the commercial center for the project. That New Mexico project is billed as the first commercial spaceport designed specifically for supporting passenger space flights.
The facility is unique because it will be a private portal to outer space that will support traditional rocket-style launches as well as the airplane-style vehicles such as SpaceShipTwo. So far, Virgin Galactic is the only tenant slated to move into Spaceport America, although more commercial space providers are expected to follow the company after it moves into the facility next year.
One of the tough jobs facing Virgin Galactic right now is the recruiting of pilots who will form the core of its operation. The company wants test pilots with experience who come from top-rated flight schools and who have already logged at least 3,000 hours of flight time. Prior space experience is preferred by the company, but does not list it as a requirement for taking the job.
The Virgin Galactic project is financed by Sir Richard Branson, a British billionaire who has become a leading visionary for future space travel.