Virgin Galactic's passenger spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, completed its first rocket-powered flight Monday (April 29) morning above the Mojave Desert in California.
About 45 minutes into the flight, SpaceShipTwo was released from its carrier craft, WhiteKnightTwo. Ignition of the rocket motor was triggered, carrying SpaceShipTwo to a maximum altitude of 56,000 feet. During the 16-second engine burn, the spaceship broke the sound barrier, according to a statement from Virgin Galactic.
The rocket-powered portion of the flight lasted a little more than 10 minutes, and the entire flight took about an hour. The flight was not a space flight. Virgin Galactic said it will continue testing this year and plans to reach full space flight by the end of 2013.
The six-passenger, two-pilot spacecraft is based on the prototype SpaceShipOne.
More than 500 would-be space tourists have already signed up to take short flights that would involve several minutes of weightlessness, with ticket prices at $200,000 apiece.
Virgin Galactic is owned by British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS.