Space Travel Takes Giant Branson-Fueled Leap

Taking another step toward space travel for all, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo lit its engine Monday, breaking the sound barrier high above California’s Mojave Air and Space port with billionaire Richard Branson on hand for the event.

“Today was the most significant day in the program,” Branson told NBC News. “I think that for those people who have been good enough to stick with us for the last eight years, who signed up early on, their time to become astronauts is very soon now … We’ll soon be able to make their dreams come true.”

Branson reportedly has 500 would-be space travelers signed up for the $200,000, two-hour flight that will include six minutes of weightlessness.

Confirming the flight and milestone accomplishment, Branson blogged:

“This is a momentous day and the single most important flight test to date for our Virgin Galactic program. What a feeling to be on the ground with all the team in Mojave to witness Virgin Galactic go faster than the speed of sound. It marks the moment when we put together two key elements of our spaceflight system – the spacecraft and its rocket motor, which have both been tested extensively by themselves over several years – and start the phase of testing that will demonstrate our vehicle’s ability to go to space (hopefully later this year).”

On board the first flight with paying passengers will be Virgin frequent fliers, allowed to trade miles for a ride in space.

[Photo credit and Clay Center Observatory]

Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Enterprise flies first solo run

The world is one step closer to the era of space tourism after an historic flight in the Mojave desert yesterday.

Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Enterprise took its first solo flight, detaching from the mothership Eve and landing on its own power.

Enterprise can carry six passengers and two crew. The mothership Eve carries Enterprise up into the sky before the Enterprise detaches and ignites its rocket, shooting it above the atmosphere and into space, but not high enough to achieve orbit. The rocket was not fired on this test flight and no passengers were on board. The crew consisted of pilots Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury, who flew for 25 minutes before landing.

More than three hundred people have already signed up to take a suborbital ride on the Enterprise once it becomes operational. Rides cost $200,000 each and are scheduled to start in about eighteen months.

The British owner of Virgin, Sir Richard Branson, watched the test. The success of the operation came as good news after Virgin Galactic’s financial difficulties.

Would you fly into space if you had the money? Tell us what you think in the comments section!

Virgin Galactic VSS Enterprise makes its first “Captive Carry Flight”

It was just 4 months ago when the Gadling team visited the Mojave Desert space port to witness the unveiling of the VSS Enterprise – the actual Virgin Galactic plane that will be flying paying guests into space on the first commercial space flight service.

Yesterday was another huge milestone for the team – they took the VSS Enterprise for its first “captive carry flight”. This flight involved flying the mothership and the spaceship, without disconnecting. In future flight tests, they’ll fly both craft, and let the spaceship glide back to earth.

Tests will continue well into 2011, prior to the start of actual commercial space operations. The starting price for tickets is $200,000, with a minimum deposit of $20,000.

Virgin Galactic preps SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic continues its march toward bringing space tourism to the (wealthy) masses and is reportedly putting the finishing touches on SpaceShipTwo, the vehicle that will take adventurous, and well heeled, travelers into sub-orbit. According to this story from the Telegraph, test flights are scheduled to begin in early 2010, with regular flights getting underway in 2012.

SpaceShipTwo is the second stage of a planned orbital delivery system. The first stage, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo, has been conducting test flights for a year, and will carry the smaller craft up to 50,000 feet. Upon reaching that altitude, SpaceShipTwo will detach and engage its own rocket engines, which will propel its passengers up to the edge of space at speeds exceeding Mach 3. Once there, the rockets will cut out, and those on board will have the opportunity to experience true weightlessness for s a brief time.

According to Virgin Galactic, more than 300 people have already payed the $200,000 ticket price to take the flight. Presumably that will include luggage fees that are all the rage with the airlines these days. Another 82,000 have expressed interest in taking future flights as well.

It appears that 2012 will be a milestone year for space tourism, as that is when the first space hotel is scheduled to open its doors too. Of course, the combined cost of hopping a flight on Virgin Galactic and spending a few days in that hotel will set you back a cool $4.6 million, but the view will be spectacular.