Thursday, October 28, 2010

Virgin Galactic - Commercial Space Flight Celebrates Two Milestones

The Virgin Galactic VSS Enterprise spacecraft, carried by Mothership Eve, prepares to during the Spaceport America runway dedication ceremony near Truth or Consequences and Las Cruses, N.M. Image Credit: Mark Rakston/AFP/Getty Images

Virgin Galactic - Commercial Space Flight Celebrates Two Milestones

Richard Bransom's dream to bring space flight to paying customers just notched two milestones this month over the deserts of California and New Mexico.

Launched from Mojave, California where the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 (VSS Enterprise) and its launch platform "mothership", WhiteKnight2 (Eve) were created, the first test flight took place on October 11, 2010. Virgin Galactic's space tourism rocket airship achieved its first solo glide flight marking another step in the company's eventual plans to fly paying passengers.

The rocket airship was carried aloft by its mothership to an altitude of 45,000 feet and released on a sunny Sunday day over the Mojave Desert. After the separation, SpaceShipTwo, manned by two test pilots, flew freely for 11 minutes before landing at an airport runway followed by the WhiteKnight2 mothership. The entire test flight process lasted about 25 minutes.

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, "VSS Enterprise", married up with the WhiteKnightTwo mothership "Eve", flies over its new hangar as it prepares to land during the Spaceport America runway dedication in the southern New Mexico desert on October 22, 2010. Image Credit: Mark Rakston/AFP/Getty Images

Eleven days later, on October 22, 2010 near Las Cruces and Truth Or Consequences , N.M., the New Mexico Spaceport Authority dedicated the nearly two-mile-long runway at Spaceport America. Spaceport America has been providing commercial launch services for rockets since 2006 and is scheduled to become fully operational with the inclusion of the Virgin Galactic operation next year.

Virgin Galactic's new terminal hangar at Spaceport America is seen during the Spaceport America runway dedication ceremony near Truth or Consequences, N.M. Image Credit: Mark Rakston/AFP/Getty Images

Officials from Virgin showed off its new terminal hangar, which is nearing completion. The building is designed to house up to two WhiteKnightTwo motherships, five SpaceShipTwo space flight airships , Virgin's astronaut preparation facilities, and SpaceShip2 mission control operations.

The event featured Billionaire and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson haming it up with New Mexico Govenor Bill Richardson, for whom the "Governor Bill Richardson Spaceway" is named.

"We are celebrating the world's first spaceway at the world's first purpose-built, commercial spaceport,"
Richardson said, according to a news release. "New Mexico is not only helping to launch the commercial spaceflight industry, but we are launching new jobs and opportunities for the people of southern New Mexico."

Branson said: "Our spaceship is flying beautifully and will soon be making powered flights, propelled by our new hybrid rocket motor, which is also making excellent progress in its own test program. The investment deal with our new partners Aabar has successfully closed, securing funding for the remainder of the development program and we are seeing unprecedented numbers of people coming forward to secure their own reservations for this incredible experience."

Tickets to ride aboard SpaceShipTwo cost $200,000. It is understood that 370 customers have already plunked down deposits totaling about $50 million, according to Virgin Galactic.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said: "With the recent signing of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 by President Obama, it is clear that our nation's future space efforts will be working even more closely than with the growing commercial space transportation industry. Innovative approaches that foster this new commercial industry will bring more competition and opportunities that will lower the costs of spaceflight and payload services for America's aerospace programs, and introduce new human space transportation systems."

Virgin Galactic plans to fly commercial customers into space from the Spaceport and landed its SpaceShipTwo, the "VSS Enterprise," carried by WhiteKnightTwo mothership "Eve," during the ceremony held here at the New Mexico desert on this Oblate Spheroid.


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