SpaceShipTwo Flies Free For First Time - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

SpaceShipTwo Flies Free For First Time

MSNBC.COM - Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane was set loose for its first gliding flight today, about 45,000 feet above California's Mojave Desert and landed to a chorus of cheers minutes later. That's one small step for gliders, but one giant leap for SpaceShipTwo and the future of suborbital space tourism.

The free-flying test was chronicled as it happened by Popular Mechanics' Joe Bargmann from the Mojave Air and Space Port, where the spaceship's builder, Scaled Composites, has its headquarters. Scaled has been working on the craft for years as a commercial follow-up to the history-making, prize-winning spaceflights of SpaceShipOne in 2004. The $100 million-plus development effort is being bankrolled by Virgin's billionaire founder, Richard Branson, who was among the crowd watching today's flight.

More than 300 would-be passengers have already put down more than $45 million in deposits for $200,000-a-seat rides on the plane. The experience will include a roller-coaster rocket ride to a spaceworthy altitude of more than 65 miles, several minutes of weightlessness, a picture-window view of the curving Earth beneath the black sky of space ... and spaceflight bragging rights for years afterward.

Eventually, the price is expected to work its way down to mere tens of thousands of dollars, particularly as competitors such as Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin and XCOR Aerospace join the market.

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