Virgin Galactic gets one flight closer to spaceflight success

Looking more like a bizarre Siamese twin (or beer-goggle double) than a real plane, the WhiteKnightTwo launch “mothership” took its maiden flight yesterday, and moved the world a little closer to a future in which the wealthy can soar far, far away from our little problems here on the ground.

For those who aren’t familiar with Virgin Galactic or the startup building the craft, Scaled Composites, WhiteKnightTwo is only half the equation needed to put someone in space. The large airplane is intended to lift a smaller vessel, SpaceShipTwo, into the upper atmosphere, where the latter can then scoot itself up far enough to give tourists the classic “Earth from space” view.

Neither aircraft will enter orbit, but Virgin Galactic is convinced that the subsequent glide back to the surface will be enough to convince passengers to shell out $200,000 apiece.

We should know by next year whether the whole scheme works; SpaceShipTwo is in progress and will enter testing within several months, according to Wired. Some video footage of the WhiteKnightTwo flight is available on FlightGlobal, here and here.