Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Test Flight In New Mexico Prepares 2013 Commercial Space Flight: Watch Flight Test Here [VIDEO]

By Staff Reporter on April 30, 2013 2:10 PM EDT

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo successfully completes first powered flight over New Mexico (Photo: YouTube)

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo successfully completed its maiden powered flight over the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles on Monday morning.

SpaceShipTwo is the ambitious commercial version of SpaceShipOne, which became the first private manned rocket to reach space in 2004. A significant milestone for SpaceShipTwo, the craft had only performed unpowered glide flights prior to Monday. A series of powered tests this summer will mark the final phase of vehicle evaluation before the pioneering Virgin Galactic program is ready to launch its commercial suborbital service from Spaceport America, New Mexico.

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"The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was, without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date," said Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson.

"For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight." Branson attended the powered test flight at Mojave.

"The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout," said Virgin Galactic President & CEO George Whitesides.

"The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space."

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo was strapped beneath a twin-fuselage jet to be taken to altitude. The SpaceShipTwo then ignited its engine for 16 seconds of propulsion before gliding back to Earth in a gentle landing. SpaceShipTwo did not break out of the atmosphere during the Monday test flight.

Since Virgin Galactic had introduced its suborbital space travel service, more than 500 adventurous individuals have placed deposits for a $200,000 ticket to experience weightlessness and to witness planet Earth in its entirety from more than 62 miles up in the sky.

While commercial space flights were initially scheduled to begin by 2007, financial and engineering obstacles caused the dream to be delayed. Now, Virgin Galactic expects to launch the first commercial space flight from a custom-designed spaceport before the end of the year. Virgin Galactic is awaiting government approval.

"Today's supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship's powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year's end," said Sir Richard Branson.

"We saw history in the making today and I couldn't be more proud of everyone involved."

Be sure to see the inspiring footage of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo's first powered flight in the video below!

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