Enterprise – the suborbital spacecraft developed by Virgin Galactic – has successfully completed its first manned free flight.
The craft was released from its mothership at an altitude of 45,000 ft before successfully gliding to land at Mojave Air & Spaceport.
During its first flight the spaceship was piloted by Pete Siebold, assisted by Mike Alsbury as co-pilot.
Following the successful trail Siebold said: “The VSS Enterprise was a real joy to fly, especially when one considers the fact that the vehicle has been designed not only to be a mach 3.5 spaceship capable of going into space but also one of the world’s highest altitude gliders.”
During the flight engineers examined the release of the spaceship, while developers also undertook an initial evaluation of handling and stall characteristics.
VSS Enterprise glides through the Mojave skies
Preparations for the milestone flight have been ongoing for some time.
The WhiteKnightTwo mothership (Eve) flew 40 times including four captive carry flights of spaceship and mothership mated together.
The most recent captive carry was on September 30th, while the most recent solo flight was on October 5th and demonstrated that all the systems required for a free flight by the VSS Enterprise were functioning correctly without any safety issues.
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, who was present during the first successful flight, added: “For the first time since we seriously began the project in 2004, I watched the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on the runway at Mojave Air and Space Port and it was a great moment.
“Now, the sky is no longer the limit and we will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year.”
Virgin Galactic has hopes of becoming the world’s first commercial space line with 370 customer deposits totalling $50 million already in place.
Virgin Galactic chief executive, George Whitesides, of who was also present at the historic flight, added: “To see the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on a runway is a sight I always dreamed I would behold.
“Now, our challenge going forward will be to complete our experimental program, obtain our FAA licence and safely bring the system into service at Spaceport America, New Mexico.”