A carrier aircraft known as 'White Knight Two', which is designed to be the first stage of a commercial spaceline system, has made its maiden test flight.
Designed by Scaled Composites, the White Knight Two mothership rolled down the runway of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and muscled itself into the air using four Pratt and Whitney PW308A turbofan engines, on December 21.
It flew for about an hour, departing the runway at roughly 8:17 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, safely touching down at the Mojave Air and Space Port at approximately 9:17 a.m. PST (Pacific Standard Time).
"It's a big day," said Stuart Witt, general manager of Mojave Air and Space Port. "I think it's a real reflective time. When everybody's looking for a bailout, there are still people that are doing something for a much larger reason," he told Space.com.
The hour-long test flight of White Knight Two made use of a minimum flight test crew.
According to Dick Rutan, a witness to the flight, "It all went well. All the big things worked well. Overall, 99 percent on target and everybody is really happy. You get an airplane that's this weird and get it up and get it down, and it's safe on deck."
After a number of shakeout flights, the White Knight Two is to be outfitted with the now-under-construction Space Ship Two.
Ultimately, White Knight Two is to carry the space plane to altitude, where it will then detach and head for suborbital space flights.
The White Knight Two/Space Ship Two combo is to serve as the backbone of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceline operations.
Virgin Galactic has on order five Space Ship Two rocket planes and two of the carrier craft, with options on more.
Given a progressive roster of test evaluations at the Mojave Air and Space Port, the spaceline system is to be commercially operated at the now-under-construction Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The price tag per seat on the two pilot/six passenger suborbital Space Ship Two is 200,000 dollars.