AIR SPACE

Tourists Get Ready: SpaceShipTwo Nearly Here

Virgin Galactic readies the first-class wonder machine at the core of the space tourism firm's suborbital fleet. Here's a look at the just-completed historic first glide test, and the history of the new spaceship.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo glides toward the earth on its first test flight

Oct. 10: The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo (or VSS Enterprise) glides toward the Earth on its first test flight after release from the mothership, WhiteKnight2 (also known as VMS Eve), over the Mojave, Calif., area.

AP

Making the Drop

SpaceShipTwo was carried aloft by its mothership to an altitude of 45,000 feet and released over the Mojave Desert. After the separation, SpaceShipTwo, manned by two pilots, flew freely for 11 minutes before landing at an airport runway followed by the mothership.

Virgin Galactic

The Gentle Glide to Earth

Until now, SpaceShipTwo has flown attached to the wing of its special jet-powered mothership dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Sunday was the first time the spaceship flew on its own. "It's a very big deal," Virgin president Sir Richard Branson told The Associated Press. "There are a number of big deals on the way to getting commercial space travel becoming a reality. This was a very big step. We now know that the spaceship glides. We know it can be dropped safely from the mothership and we know it can land safely. That's three big ticks."

Mark Greenberg

It's a Bird! It's a Plane!

Sir Richard Branson (right) and designer Burt Rutan stand behind SpaceShip2 just after its successful landing in Mojave, Ca. Flyin overhead is the WhiteKnight2, the mothership that carried the spaceship aloft. The craft was piloted by engineer and test pilot Pete Siebold from Scaled Composites.

Mike Mills/Scaled Composites forVirgin Galactic

Touchdown

SpaceShipTwo lands at the Mojave Air and Space Port Sunday after completing its first solo flight.

Bill Deaver/Space.com

SpaceShipTwo in Flight

July 15: SpaceShipTwo makes its first crewed flight over the Mojave Desert in California, one of a series of test flights before the first free flight of the passenger ship for space tourism flights.

Virgin Galactic

Followed by Chase Plane

July 15: With a chase plane close behind, the Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceliner SpaceShipTwo makes its first crewed flight over the Mojave Desert in California, one of a series of test flights before the first free flight of the passenger ship for space tourism flights.

Virgin Galactic

Virgin SpaceShipTwo in Flight

July 15: SpaceShipTwo is built to carry eight people (six passengers and two pilots) on suborbital flights that would reach outer space for a few minutes, though would not go high enough to enter Earth orbit.

Virgin Galactic

Virgin SpaceShipTwo

July 15: The Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceliner SpaceShipTwo makes its first crewed flight over the Mojave Desert in California, one of a series of test flights before the first free flight of the passenger ship for space tourism flights.

Virgin Galactic

VSS Enterprise Close Up

March 22: The first "captive carry" and flight of VSS Enterprise and SpaceShip II over Mojave, California. The center mounted spaceship is attached to the "mothership" WhiteKnight II for a series of flight tests prior to its first drop test later in the year.

Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

VSS Enterprise Takeoff

The first "captive carry" and flight of VSS Enterprise or SpaceShip II over Mojave, California Monday March 22,2010. The center mounted spaceship is attached to the "mothership" WhiteKnight II for a series of flight tests prior to its first drop test later in the year.

Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

VSS Enterprise in Flight

The first "captive carry" and flight of VSS Enterprise or SpaceShip II over Mojave, California Monday March 22, 2010. The center mounted spaceship is attached to the "mothership" WhiteKnight II for a series of flight tests prior to its first drop test later in the year.

Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

VSS Enterprise Takes Off

The first "captive carry" and flight of VSS Enterprise or SpaceShip II over Mojave, California Monday March 22, 2010. The center mounted spaceship is attached to the "mothership" WhiteKnight II for a series of flight tests prior to its first drop test later in the year.

Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

VSS Enterprise Takeoff

The first "captive carry" and flight of VSS Enterprise or SpaceShip II over Mojave, California Monday March 22, 2010. The center mounted spaceship is attached to the "mothership" WhiteKnight II for a series of flight tests prior to its first drop test later in the year.

Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo vehicle soars over the Las Cruces International Airport in Las Cruces, N.M. on Saturday, June 20, 2009 before returning to Mojave, Calif. WhiteKnightTwo was originally scheduled to fly over Southern New Mexico on Friday, June 19, 2009 for the Spaceport America groundbreaking ceremony in Upham, N.M., however due to technical issues it was unable to make the scheduled flight.

AP

SpaceShipTwo

Sir Richard Branson and designer Burt Rutan walking near the Virgin Mothership WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, or "Eve," in Mojave, Calif.

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

The Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo mothership "Eve" is the largest all-composite aircraft ever built. It will ferry SpaceShipTwo aloft for passenger flight to space. Richard Branson prepares for flight inside the cockpit while Scaled Composites engineer Bob Morgan preps Richard.

Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

Inside SpaceShipTwo

Early photo shows Burt Rutan sitting in shell of SpaceShipTwo during its construction. Rutan made history as the designer of SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded space vehicle to reach suborbital space during the Ansari X-Prize of in 2004

Virgin Galactic/sky26

SpaceShipTwo

Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan in VMS Eve, the craft that will carry SpaceShipTwo into sub-orbital space. 

Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

Richard Branson prepares for flight inside the cockpit of VMS Eve, the craft that will ferry SpaceShipTwo into space. Scaled Composites engineer Bob Morgan preps Richard along with WhiteKnightTwo pilot Pete Siebold.

Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

Sir Richard Branson and designer Burt Rutan walking near the Virgin Mothership WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, or "Eve," in Mojave, Calif.

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

Placement of the center beam during SpaceShipTwo's construction inside the Scaled Composites plant at the Mojave Airport in Mojave, Calif.

AP/Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

SpaceShipTwo, with wings in feathered position. 

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

SpaceShipTwo, seen with wings feathered from behind. 

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

Conceptual image of SpaceShipTwo and VMS Eve in flight.

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

Conceptual image of SpaceShipTwo being released from VMS Eve.

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

Illustrated diagram of the journey SpaceShipTwo will go on. 

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

Head on view comparison of WhiteKnightOne and SpaceShipOne  (at top) with the newly unveiled WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo (below). 

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

Aerial view comparing WhiteKnightOne and SpaceShipOne (at top) with the newly released WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo (at bottom).

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo

Scale comparison of the first generation plane with the newly unveiled SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic

Tourists Get Ready: SpaceShipTwo Nearly Here

Virgin Galactic readies the first-class wonder machine at the core of the space tourism firm's suborbital fleet. Here's a look at the just-completed historic first glide test, and the history of the new spaceship.

More From Our Sponsors