SpaceShipTwo makes first powered flight- a step closer to bringing passengers to space
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo successfully launched its first powered flight on Monday, April 29, 2013, over California.
It's a big, first step for the enterprise, which is planning to take passengers on flights to the reaches of space during brief, sub-orbital flights.
SpaceShipTwo broke the sound barrier on its maiden flight over the Mojave Desert.
SpaceShipTwo's owner, Sir Richard Branson was pleased with the results. "It couldn't have gone more smoothly."
The spacecraft was carried to a launch altitude of 48,000 feet by a twin fuselage jet aircraft and released.
Rocket pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbery fired the engine for 16 seconds, pushing SpaceShipTwo up to 55,000 feet and beyond the sound barrier to a speed of mach 1.2.
The ship then glided back to Earth just north of Los Angeles.
Once the spaceship was released from the ferry plane, the entire flight took only 10 minutes, and was considered a success.
Branson, who was there to watch the flight said that there will be a series of progressively longer flight tests, until mission planners deem it ready for a flight to the reaches of outer space later this year.
When operational, Virgin Galactic will take passengers able to pay the $200,000 fare on a 62 mile high sprint into space, where they will see the curvature of Earth and experience weightlessness for a few minutes before plunging back to Earth.
More than 500 customers have bought tickets or placed deposits for a seat.
The flights will originate from a custom built spaceport in New Mexico, once federal approval is granted.
Branson had originally predicted that commercial flights would begin by 2007, but plans were delayed after a deadly explosion during a ground test.
SpaceShip Two was built by pioneer aviation designer Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites, LLC.