Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by Richard Branson, is celebrating the first glide test of its SpaceShipTwo spaceplane this weekend. Piloted by Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury, the VSS Enterprise was released from its WhiteKnightTwo mothership at an altitude of 13.7km (45 000 ft) for a unpowered gliding flight to test and confirm its aerodynamic properties. Siebold and Alsbury successfully brought the Enterprise for a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
This is a great achievement by the team at Virgin and Scaled Composites (designers and builders of the craft), but anyone planning an out of this world vacation must be aware that this is but a small step in a long journey. It appears that the craft has yet to be fitted with a safe and usable rocket motor (see the Quantum-G blog for some pessimistic views on this saga).