Sir Richard Branson's venture on commercial aerospace travel shows tremendous promise with Virgin Galactic's successful test flight today at the Mojave Desert in southern California.
The Virgin Galactic spaceship, named SpaceShipTwo or VSS Unity, was set for flight and was able to land safely back to test site after 1 hour and 20 minutes on air, from an altitude of 50,000 feet. The free-glide flight was made possible in 10 minutes. The spaceship's carrier named WhiteKnightTwo, also made it back safely.
VSS Unity was manned by Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and Test Pilot Mark Stucky, with pilots-on-board Mike Masucci and Todd Ericsson. WhiteKnightTwo had flight test engineer Dustin Mosher on-board.
VSS Unity pilots Mackay and Stucky have stellar achievements to back them, having served in the US Marine Corp, US Navy, US Air Force, NASA, and other international partners.
Branson, Virgin Group founder, was on site to witness the testing, along with Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. Branson and Whitesides are behind the concept of commercial aerospace flights, with Virgin Galactic deemed as the "world's first spaceline."
Other space exploration professionals have also shown their support for the Virgin Galactic test flight, with famous British astronaut Tim Peake sharing on Twitter:
"Good luck with this new phase of the test programme @virgingalactic - safe flight #pushingboundaries."
This is the fifth test flight for VSS Unity, and the 218th test flight for WhiteKnightTwo.
A flight attempt back in October 2014 ended in co-pilot Michael Alsbury's death, and with pilot Peter Siebold seriously injured. After the year-long investigation, the ruling for Alsbury's death was 'structural failure'. It was found out that Alsbury mistakenly unlocked the spaceship's brakes too early, leading to a freak landing over the Mojave Desert.
There are more flight tests to be conducted including hybrid motor checks and glide flight assessments.
The National Transportation Safety Body needs to issue an approval before Virgin Galactic is able to operate commercially. Once tests and approvals are complete, Virgin Galactic will be operating and setting off space flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Virgin Galactic CEO Whitesides says, "Space is not only important for the future of transportation, it's important for the future of imagination."
Seat tickets for a chance to fly aboard Virgin Galactic are now up for sale for $250,000 per person per flight. This fee should be paid in full upfront. It also automatically ensigns the passenger to the Future Astronaut membership community.
Jackie Maw is one of the first ticket purchasers of Virgin Galactic. She says, "We are all focused on the safety of the flights, and I daresay most of the future astronauts are happy to wait (until)... Virgin Galactic (is) 100 percent satisfied with the flights."