Virgin Galactic’s Enterprise marks its test debut flight

Virgin-Galactic-The sleek, suborbital, six-passenger spaceship VSS Enterprise, owned by the aspirant space tourism operator Virgin Galactic, marked its two-hour, 54-minutes-long test debut flight on Monday, when it was launched into the skies above the Mojave Desert in California.

Designed and built by Burt Rutan, founder of Mojave-based Scaled Composites, the VSS Enterprise model greatly resembles that of the SpaceShipOne – a prototype suborbital spaceship, which is currently in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The prototype had received a $10-million award for the first privately-funded manned spaceflights in 2004.

With the VSS Enterprise set to be the first exclusive spacecraft to offer passenger service to suborbital space, as many as 330 aspiring amateur astronauts have paid Virgin Galactic – an subsidiary of billionaire Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group – as many as $200,000 apiece, for experiencing a few minutes of suborbital spaceflight.

Elated at the debut flight of the VSS Enterprise, Branson said: “Watching VSS Enterprise fly for the first time really brings home what beautiful, ground-breaking vehicles. Burt and his team have developed for us.”

While the Enterprise’s test flights are scheduled through 2011, its commercial operations would likely commence on schedule in 2012. Thereafter, flights would be launched from New Mexico, where the first spaceport of the world is currently under construction.