The private spaceflight company Virgin Galactic performed a landmark test flight of its SpaceShipTwo space plane today, lighting up the craft's rocket motor in flight for the first time.
The powered flight test, the first for SpaceShipTwo after a series of captive carry and drop tests, marked a turning point for Virgin Galactic. The company is planning to launch its first suborbital SpaceShipTwo flights by the end of this year, and begin passenger flights in 2014.
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is built by the veteran aerospace company Scaled Composites in Mojave, Calif., and designed to launch six passengers and two pilots on trips to suborbital space. Virgin Galactic is selling tickets for the rocket ride at $200,000 per seat. Here's what Virgin Galactic officials and other space industry experts had to say about Monday's milestone rocket-powered flight of SpaceShipTwo:
Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic founder, billionaire
The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date. For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today's supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year's end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved. [Video: Watch SpaceShipTwo Soar on 1st Powered Flight]
Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator, via Twitter
Congratulations Sir Richard! Virgin Galactic just went Mach 1 (first commercial spaceship to do so).
Michael Lopez-Alegria, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and former astronaut
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation congratulates the team at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites for the first powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo today. This incredible achievement is the direct result of the hard work and dedication by these two companies, as well as by RocketMotorTwo developer Sierra Nevada Corporation. Because of their efforts, we are one step closer to achieving safe, routine, and cost-effective access to space that will create abundant opportunities for space-based research and that will inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. I applaud the team at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites for their accomplishment, and the team at Mojave Air & Space Port for their efforts in creating a professional and safe testing environment.
We partnered with Virgin Galactic several years ago with the aspiration to transform and commercialize access to space for the broader public. Today’s test is another key milestone in realizing that aspiration. Our partnership goes from strength to strength, and is an excellent example of aabar's desire to participate in the development of world class technologies that are commercially viable and strategically important, both for the company, its shareholders, and for Abu Dhabi.
Kevin Mickey, President of Scaled Composites (SpaceShipTwo Builder)
I'd like to congratulate the entire team. This milestone has been a long time coming and it's only through the hard work of the team and the tremendous support of Virgin Galactic that we have been able to witness this important milestone. We look forward to all our upcoming tests and successes.
George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic President and CEO
The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.
Kevin McCarthy, Congressman (R-California), representing Calif. 23rd District
I want to congratulate Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites on SpaceShipTwo's momentous success today.
Igniting SpaceShipTwo's rocket motor for the first time and breaking the sound barrier is a major milestone in commercial space travel, bringing us one step closer to offering private commercial space travel and solidifying the Mojave Air and Space Port as our nation’s premier aerospace research, development and test flight center for this emerging space industry. The hardworking people at Virgin Galactic and Mojave continue to demonstrate the endless possibilities when entrepreneurship and innovation are combined, and I look forward to more groundbreaking achievements in East Kern this year.
XCOR Aerospace, developer of Lynx space plane based at Mojave Air and Space Port
XCOR Aerospace sends our warmest and heartfelt congratulations to our friends and colleagues at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites on their successful first powered flight of the Spaceship Two (SS2) suborbital space plane.
We applaud their exceptional team on taking the next step in the greatest journey the human race has ever known. We look forward to meeting them there, above the clouds, where the adventure has only just begun.
Much work is left for the promise of commercial spaceflight to be realized. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Commercial Spaceflight Federation on advancing industry best practices, working on export licensing reform, and ensuring international regulatory frameworks that enable a new industry and inspire a generation of future innovators.
Today is a day to celebrate and acknowledge a job well done. Not only did Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two perform its first powered flight this morning, it also broke the sound barrier. Great job, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites!
Email Tariq Malik at email@example.com or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+.