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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

Virgin Galactic Spaceship's 1st Glide Test Could Occur This Fall

• Clara Moskozitz via SPACE.com
A private spaceship built to launch space tourists on suborbital joyrides could by flying on its own by this fall, SPACE.com has learned.

The SpaceShipTwo spacecraft VSS Enterprise, which the space tourism company Virgin Galactic has been flying on test flights attached to a huge mothership, could make its first drop flights over California's Mojave Desert for glide and landing tests.

"There's a reasonable possibility that we could see the first drop flight in the fall, but as always, everything is predicated on thoroughness and safety," Virgin Galactic's commercial director Stephen Attenborough told SPACE.com in an e-mail. "No corners will be cut in order to achieve arbitrary deadlines."

Founded by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic is developing a fleet of SpaceShipTwo spaceliners to launch paying thrillseekers on suborbital hops into space. [Photos of SpaceShipTwo in flight.]

SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry eight people (six passengers and two pilots) on suborbital flights that would reach outer space for a few minutes before returning back to Earth. The spacecraft is designed to drop from a mothership, called WhiteKnightTwo, from an altitude above 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) and fire a hybrid rocket motor to launch into suborbital space.

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