Virgin Galactic's SpaceShiptwo makes first captive flight

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Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo prototype Virgin SpaceShip Enterprise has made its first captive carry flight mated with its WhiteKnight Two carrier aircraft.

The WK2 prototype Virgin MotherShip Eve carried VSS Enterprise to 45,000ft (13,716m) during a 2h 54min flight from Mojave air and spaceport starting at 07:05 local time.

Prime contractor Scaled Composites will continue the test flight programme throughout 2010 and 2011. Scaled founder Burt Rutan says: "The captive carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely exciting and successful spaceship flight-test programme."

The programme will now progress from captive carry to VSS Enterprise independently gliding back to the airport and then powered flight using its rocket motor. The first captive carry is WK2's 25th flight since its maiden voyage in December 2008.

Commercial operations for Virgin Galactic's planned fleet of five SpaceShipTwos and two WK2s could start in 2012 from New Mexico's Spaceport America, which is under construction.