New Mexico spaceport’s first runway open for testing

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

World’s first commercial spaceport. Check. Solo flight of a rocket ship for tourists. Check. A runway in the southern New Mexico desert to help them climb to the heavens. Check…

“Today is very personal, as our dream becomes more real,” said Sir Richard Branson, whose company, Virgin Galactic, will operate the flights. “People are beginning to believe now.”

All that is left for the company is more rocket testing on SpaceShipTwo and sending it into space. The British billionaire said he expects flights for space tourists to begin in nine to 18 months, and he will be among the first passengers.

Stretching across a flat dusty plain 45 miles north of Las Cruces, the nearly two-mile-long runway is designed to support almost every aircraft in the world, day-to-day space tourism and payload launch operations.

Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant of the taxpayer-funded $198 million spaceport and plans to use the facility to take tourists on what will first be short hops into space…

Branson was joined at Friday’s ceremonies by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, tourists who have already paid their deposits for a seat into suborbital space and Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon in 1969 as part of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission.

Virgin Galactic’s White Knight Two – the special jet-powered mothership that will carry SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude – also made an appearance Friday, passing over the spaceport several times before landing on the new runway.

Bravo! Gives me an excuse eventually to drive downstate and watch takeoffs and landings.

Can’t afford the flight.

Virgin Galactic spaceship makes 1st test-glide flight

Seven months after making its first captive flight attached to its mother ship White Knight Two, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (aka VSS Enterprise) completed its first solo glide flight today touching down on runway 30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The early morning flight took place after several months of simulated practice flights in the mother ship, also known as Eve, which has an identical cockpit as the space craft.

The glide flight is a critical first step for the team at Scaled Composites which is building the space ship for Virgin Galactic. Though there has been no word from the company, it is expected the flight test development of the VSS Enterprise will be similar to that of SpaceShipOne.

Back in 2003, SpaceShipOne performed seven solo glide flights before the first powered flight on 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight.

Virgin Galactic boss Sir Richard Branson recently announced he expects the first passenger flights to suborbital space in SpaceShipTwo to happen within the next 18 months. Less than a year after the first glide flight of SpaceShipOne, the Scaled Composite team had flown to space three times, capturing the X Prize…

RTFA. More photos – including the moment of the release – and a video previewing National Geographic’s upcoming Virgin Galactic documentary.

All enjoyable stuff if you’re not hindered with an earthbound brain.

SpaceShip Two is christened the VSS Enterprise

On a cold and windy night at the Mojave Air and Space Port, the VSS Enterprise was unveiled to the public. Attached to its mother ship, the vehicle better known as SpaceShipTwo is expected to be the first commercial spacecraft when it enters service with Virgin Galactic.

SpaceShipTwo was built by Scaled Composites under the guidance of legendary aircraft designer Burt Rutan. The carbon composite spacecraft uses the same fuselage as its mother ship, VMS Eve. After a year of rigorous testing, VMS Eve completed flight testing earlier this fall. Rutan didn’t specify when flight testing for SpaceShipTwo would begin, though it is expected to start early next year.

Sub-orbital passenger flights could start as early as 2011 from Virgin Galactic’s space port in New Mexico which is currently under construction. Tickets for the early adopters are $200,000 for a training program culminating with the ride into space. Both Rutan and Virgin Galactic founder, Sir Richard Branson have repeatedly said they expect the prices to drop rapidly similar to many new technologies, including the early days of air travel.

Once flight testing is complete, production will begin on a fleet spacecraft like SpaceShipTwo in order to meet the expected demand for rides into space. Rutan and Branson have partnered in a company known simply as The Spaceship Company. The joint venture will produce both the WhiteKnightTwo mother ships and the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. Rutan says he expects that 40 to 50 spaceships will be needed in order to satisfy the market needs. Branson’s Virgin Galactic has the exclusive use of the launch system for the first 18 months of operation.

More than 300 erstwhile astronauts are waiting in line – having fronted the $200K for a seat on SpaceShipTwo.

Would I do it? In a New York minute. At my age and weight – did I mention my age? – it would probably kill me. But, the exit would be a gas!