Los Angeles, March 23 (DPA) Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane took its maiden flight Monday passing a crucial milestone as it aims to become the first private sector vehicle to take paying customers into space.
The craft, dubbed VSS Enterprise, took to the air strapped to the wings of its WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane just three months after it was unveiled to the public at the Mojave Desert in California.
Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has already signed up more than 300 people who have put down a total $of 45 million in deposits towards tour packages that will allow them to experience the weightlessness of space and see the curvature of the earth. Each ticket will cost around 200,000 dollars.
The planes stayed aloft for 2 hours 54 minutes, achieving an altitude of 13,716 metres, the company said. Virgin Galactic's business plan calls for building five SpaceShipTwo planes and two WhiteKnightTwo carriers, with options for more.
"Today was a testament to US engineering and innovation," said Branson. "The VSS Enterprise test flight program will continue though 2010 and 2011, progressing from captive carry to independent glide and then powered flight, prior to the start of commercial operations."