Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company within Virgin Group, launched a spaceship into sub-orbit on Monday. They’ve been trying to design a commercial aircraft capable of launching tourists into space since 2004.
The spaceship, called SpaceShip Two, completed its first powered flight over the Mojave Desert on Monday. The founder of Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, said that the flight could not have gone more smoothly. A special twin-fuselage jet carried SpaceShipTwo for forty-five minutes as they climbed to an altitude of 47,000 feet.
The spacecraft was then released from the jet and began ascending on its own. The engine only burned for sixteen seconds but the spacecraft managed to break the sound barrier (768 mph) and climbed an additional 8,000 feet before the engine stopped and the spacecraft began it’s slow descent.
This is the first time since the Concorde that a commercially built aircraft has broken the sound barrier. The test flight, which lasted about ten minutes, is a massive step forward for the company. Branson suspects that they’ll be able to start sending people to space as early as the end of this year. It’s certainly not cheap to enjoy a sub-orbital flight, however.
The initial cost for a single flight will be $250,000 but once they send a thousand people into space they’ll lower the price. The price may seem ridiculously unaffordable but over five-hundred people have already signed up. Don’t let this squash your dreams of going to space though. This is just the first successful attempt at commercializing space travel. As time goes by and technology improves, the price of space tourism will eventually drop to a price more affordable to most people.