Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two took its first test flight today, and the results were exactly what soon-to-be passengers hoped to see.
"It couldn't have gone more smoothly," said Richard Branson, who owns the spaceline with Aabar Investments PJC of Abu Dhabi.
The privately funded spacecraft has been in development for over eight years. Branson decided to fund Spaceship Two after he witnessed the overwhelming success of the first ever privately funded space craft, Spaceship One. Spaceship One only seated two people, however.
Spaceship Two can seat up to six passengers. Branson says that over 560 people have already reserved a trip on Spaceship Two at a cost of over $200,000 per seat. The space craft will take travelers 62 miles up in the air, an altitude that is generally considered the edge of space.
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Branson believes Spaceship Two will be carrying passengers by the end of this year. He and his children will be passengers on the space ships first flight.
“It’s been a tough 8.5 years, trying to get everything right,” Branson said. “Today really was almost the culmination of all that.” Branson originally predicted the space ship to be active by 2007, but several technical difficulties delayed the original timeline. The most notable difficulty came in the form of an explosion during a propulsion test in 2007 that left three workers dead.
Until today, Spaceship Two had only performed unpowered glide flights. But today, the ships engine roared to life for 16 seconds, propelling the craft to Mach 1.2 speeds.
"Having the spaceship and rocket perform together in the air is a long way toward getting into space," said Branson. "A few more test flights with slightly bigger burns every time, and then we'll all be back here to watch it go into space."