SpaceShipTwo undertook its 23rd glide flight on Dec. 19 in the pre-powered portion of its incremental test flight program. This was a significant flight as it was the first with rocket motor components installed, including tanks. It was also the first flight with thermal protection applied to the spaceship's leading edges.
Credit: Luke Colby/Virgin Galactic
British billionaire Sir Richard Branson has given actress Kate Winslet a free trip to space, according to press reports.
Branson, founder of the private spaceflight company Virgin Galactic, gave Winslet a ticket to ride one of his company's SpaceShipTwo suborbital space planes after she rescued Branson's mother Eve from a fire last year, the U.K.'s Telegraph reported. Winslet also recently married Branson's nephew Ned RocknRoll, the paper added.
Tickets for flights aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo are set at $200,000 per seat. The company has been putting its first SpaceShipTwo vehicle, dubbed the VSS Enterprise, through a series of trials and is expected to begin rocket-powered test flights soon.
The SpaceShipTwo spacecraft is designed to fly eight people, six passengers and two pilots, into suborbital space 60 miles (100 kilometers) up and then glide back to Earth. The flight promises to give passengers amazing views of Earth, the blackness of space and a few minutes of weightlessness, Virgin Galactic officials have said.
Virgin Galactic will launch SpaceShipTwo from a high-altitude carrier plane, the WhiteKnightTwo, that will take off from the New Mexico-based Spaceport America.
Winslet is not the only celebrity bound for space with Virgin Galactic. In March, American actor Ashton Kutcher —star of CBS's "Two and a Half Men" —reserved a trip and became the 500th paying customer for Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic officials have said they hope to begin the first passenger flights aboard SpaceShipTwo sometime in 2013 or 2014.