SpaceShipTwo, Flying Solo.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a massive nerd crush on any private space company that’s demonstrated working hardware. Long time readers of this blog will know that there are two in particular: Virgin Galactic and SpaceX. Most recently all of my love has been directed to SpaceX as they began to make waves with their Falcon 1 and 9 rockets but it’s been a while since we heard anything about Virgin Galactic’s craft, SpaceShipTwo. Three months ago saw them flying a full crew aboard both the VSS Enterprise and Mothership Eve so we knew they were in the thick of testing and verifying all of their flight systems. Still even the extremely head of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson, hadn’t made any statements about the progress of the craft.

That was until just recently, however.

Flicking through my Twitter feed this morning I noticed quite a few articles popping up mentioning SpaceShipTwo. As it turns out the sub-orbital craft made its first solo flight after be released from it’s mothership at 45,000 feet and gliding back down to earth:

“This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin,” said Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic. “For the first time since we seriously began the project in 2004, I watched the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on the runway at Mojave Air and Space Port and it was a great moment. Now, the sky is no longer the limit and we will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year.”

“This is a critical milestone in Virgin Galactic’s test program and a great day for the commercial spaceflight industry,” added John Gedmark, Executive Director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “At the end of the day, getting hardware off the ground is what it’s really all about. Today’s SpaceShipTwo test flight marks another key milestone towards opening the space frontier for private individuals, researchers, and explorers. Congratulations to the entire SpaceShipTwo team.”

Virgin Galactic has since released a video of the flight in question:

The news comes hot on the heels of an announcement made just a couple weeks ago that Virgin Galactic will be open for business in just 18 months. Between now and then there are still a myriad of tests and certifications that need to be done on the craft, not least of which is several powered flights to the edge of space. This first drop test verifies SpaceShipTwo’s glider mode of operation and is a crucial first step towards the ultimate goal of powered flight. The next 18 months will see a steady progression tests to push the envelope of SpaceShipTwo’s capabilities ensuring that this iconic spacecraft is never too far from public eye.

To me SpaceShipTwo represents exactly where the private space industry needs to be heading. Branson’s focus on commoditising travel to space ensures that, whilst sub-orbital junkets are out of the reach of the everyman today, one day they will be as international air travel was decades ago. Virgin Galactic is also committed to furthering their capabilities beyond sub-orbital flights with Branson stating on several occasions that should SpaceShipTwo be a success (and by all means, it already is) that the next generation of craft will be capable of orbital flight. You could take that as just marketing hype but when the man behind SpaceShipOne already has designs for such a craft it would seem doubtful that it was mere rhetoric.

Humanity is on the cusp of a revolution in space where venturing to the final frontier will be as common as visiting another country. As someone who can’t stop dreaming about seeing the blue marble for themselves the idea of anyone with the will and the want to venture beyond our atmosphere being able to do so brings me unimaginable joy. The next decade will see amazing revolutions in the private space travel industry and I, for one, can’t wait.

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