Virgin flight of Virgin Galactic's VSS Enterprise: Photo Gallery


The VSS Enterprise was unveiled last December, and today flew for the first time out of Mojave Spaceport in California, as captured in the image above. "VSS Enterprise remained attached to its unique WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, for the duration of the 2 hours 54 minutes flight, achieving an altitude of 45,000ft (13716 metres)." Both crafts are developed for Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic by Burt Rutan and team at Mojave-based Scaled Composites.

The VSS Enterprise test flights will continue through 2011, progressing from "captive carry" (that's what today's experiment was), to "independent glide," and then fully powered flight, before commercial operations begin.

More photos (in glorious wide-o-vision!) from the dawn liftoff and flight are after the jump.

More about today's flight at





(Photos courtesy Mark Greenberg)


  1. That first picture filled me with a hope and optimism that’s pretty hard for me to come by! That’s amazing. I hope it works well and succeeds.

  2. Looks like mom and dad are taking their little one out for a walk. Nice and friendly. maybe a bit overcrowded. But that’s family.

  3. That’s very cool. Is WhiteKnightTwo one airplane or two? After it releases the payload (is the VSS Enterprise the same as SpaceShipTwo?), can the two halves split apart to land easily? I’m guessing not, but I’m also guessing it must be pretty hard to land that thing if the pilot isn’t in the middle of the plane.

      1. Fortunately they probably won’t have to worry about merging into traffic anyway. Aircraft and spaceships don’t need as much visibility as cars since there’s very little up there to collide with, especially if you’re talking about a plane that has its own dedicated runway.

        I do like SamSam’s idea of a mothership that breaks into three planes though, it would be just like that 80s cheesefest movie “Ice Pirates.”

    1. How does samsam expect two detached halves to fly and land with uneven wingspan and just two inline wheels….. THAT would be a great achievement in itself!

    2. 1) No the mothership doesn’t split in to, though I see what you mean. I guess you fly is Millennium Falcon style with your cockpit off to one side.

      2) Yes, VMS Enterprise = SpaceShip Two

    1. The private sector has been involved with spaceflight for a very long time, they’ve just never been the operator.

    1. Yea, NASA is dumb!. They only got people to the moon and back and designed the world’s only operational re-usable spaceship!

      NASA stopped sending manned rockets to sub-orbital altitudes a long time ago.

      This is really cool, but comparisons to NASA’s orbital and beyond-LEO operations are not valid.

      1. Only operational re-usable spaceship that they’re retiring and have to rely on the Russians to get to their multi-billion dollar orbital boondoggle while they try and come up with something to get men back into space; that’s not going to be re-usable by the way.

        I mean I love NASA, seriously, as a non-American NASA is one of the greatest things ever done with American tax payer money and is criminally underfunded most of the time.

        The manned space stuff though? They cancelled the big-interesting-science stuff for the ISS. The Shuttles have only a few flights left and the new ways to get up there don’t build on the concept but rather take a few steps back.

        NASA has achieved some pretty amazing things, but it’s not all sunshine. (A lot of it can be blamed on seriously bad mismanagement.)

        I’m more stoked for their robotic stuff, the Rovers were stunning, the Martian lab, the… thing they have orbiting Mars taking pictures? Fuck yes.

        The men-in-space things… yeah as a sci-fi nerd I think we eventually need to go to space – that great Carl Sagan quote would fit here – but with NASA I’d rather they did hard-science stuff than build a proof-of-concept tin can. Or get men to Mars.

        (Yeah, the ISS is amazing to behold – but also something of a money and energy sink imo.)

        Personally I think the private sector and NASA can do a lot of good together and I’m excited to see the sort of things Virgin Galactic does with space tourism and SpaceX does with their load lifting rockets.

        1. Yes the shuttle is being retired. Yes, NASA has had 30 years to come up with a replacement. NASA operates at the whims of Congress. I guess representative democracy isn’t always perfect. NASA does not have the unlimited budget or political authorization to actually do everything it has proposed over the years.
          As for ISS being a boondoggle: You either see the value in learning to construct space vehicles on orbit through international cooperative effort, or you do not.
          Also, almost everything NASA has ever done has a been in collaboration w/ private enterprise. We don’t have government design bureaus like Sukhoi/Mikoyan/Tupolev here in the US.

  4. Burt Rutan’s stuff always looks awesome and weird all at the same time. Plus hearing that man speak in public is life changing, wet your pants funny, even if you ~don’t~ include the mutton chops into the image. At some conferences and such he walks around wearing a t-shirt that on the front says “I Need Help” and on the back asks for you to submit your resume.

  5. As I see it, there are only two rows of window seats with a view, and four without a view. What’s the point of going to space if you can’t see out the windows?

  6. That’s the type of ship I’d design after reading Popular Science and reading a Richard Scarry book. When I was 7, and high on cookies and chocolate milk.

  7. @clemoh: There’s only 2 rows of seats in the paying passenger area, 3 windows each side. 6 passengers total, so everybody gets a window seat.

  8. so the ‘shuttle’ is everything under that white part with all the bolts on it? can someone explain how something with such small wing area can fly?

    1. If you have a lot of velocity, you don’t need much wing. The wings are mostly for a glide to landing.

    2. There’s a big honking rocket on the ass-end of that thing. It mostly just goes, “whoosh”.

    3. It doesn’t ‘fly’ per se, it glides, like the shuttle. Thats why it needs the lifter aircraft with the really big wings to take it to altitude. The wing size is designed to allow only enough area to generate controll on descent (enough to get it to the runway, not enough to achieve normal lifting flight).

    4. It needs a head of steam first and that is what the parent ship does at first. Once that happens and it gets directed it works more like a rocket and it orbits I think. So you don’t need the big wings.

  9. That is a truly wonderful thing, an amazing piece of work, and, like all Burt Rutan’s planes, a thing of beauty.

    I recall the days when people mocked Richard Branson, and Virgin Records, his first enterprise, calling him a “long-haired-hippy”, suggesting he ought to get a proper job.
    Well, Richard, the laugh’s on them. Adventurer, dreamer, spaceman.

    Oh. and a little linguistic glitch. The plural of craft, in this context, is craft.

  10. man, these machines are gorgeous. super inspiring.

    and people, do you really need to be reminded that you operate vehicles from an off-center position every dang day? assuming you drive a car, of course, or fly a helicopter or a cessna or an airbus. i imagine piloting white knight two is about as strange as sitting in a chair in the sky, soaring eight miles high in a small box some nice people made at great expense, godking of the clouds and whatnot. non-traditional fuselage arrangements are probably less a point of concern.

    plus it just looks badass as hell, right? this is awesome, and branson says “you’re welcome.”

  11. I was telling my hippie friend about this today, and he responded by questioning how much pollution space ships would put out, and was generally skeptical and disagreeable about space exploration.

  12. What is it with “Enterprise”? Why not Executor, Swinetrek, or Heart of Gold? Better yet, why not something original?

    1. As far as I know this is the first “Enterprise” space ship, real or fictional, that was built with private money with the intention of turning a profit on the free market. The real question is why all those other ships are called “Enterprise!”

  13. I didn’t see an FTC notice on this post. Is it safe to assume that BB bloggers will remain earthbound until Southwest operates an orbital shuttle?

  14. Beautiful!

    Rutan is an absolute genius who surrounds himself with people of equal cleverness and vision. Two of my favourite entrepreneurs come together on this project, Rutan and Branson, and I sincerely hope that this works.

    NASA has lost its way, along with the budget cuts. NASA was one of the few US things that I used to admire, but their work since the 1980’s has been of a generally lower quality and done without bravery or vision, IMO. Don’t get me wrong, some unmanned stuff has been very clever (the mars rovers and other unmanned cleverness) but they fail to INSPIRE the next generation of americans and other humans. Rutan and Branson inspire!

    Everyone needs inspiration, but kids in particular need to see people with vision follow their dreams.

    1. “Everyone needs inspiration, but kids in particular need to see people with vision follow their dreams.” – Quote of the day.

  15. for the aerodynamics and flying the mother ship. No problem, the weirdest thing would be aiming so far to the side of the centreline when landing, otherwise it’s just business as usual.
    The wing on the spaceship part actually isn’t that tiny. It has quite a bit of area. It IS short. Very low aspect ration. But as pointed out above, you don’t need huge wings if you have speed.
    Here’s a pic from NASA’a braver times when they flew this aircraft with no wings at all (X-24A)

  16. This is a classic two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) design. But I’m not a big fan of the Rutan configuration. The first stage (mother ship) doesn’t look like it can get enough velocity to justify it’s weight. Why does the 1st stage have those large fuselages with windows? Are they taking passengers on those also? And the configuration looks very “draggy” (interference drag) but maybe not if it doesn’t go that fast. I’d have to see the wind tunnel data to say for sure. I’d favor something like the SR-71 design with a conformal 2nd stage underneath. take off horizontal, go fast, get vertical, release the 2nd stage, and return.

  17. Re the small wings, I think it’s a lifting body ( as is the old shuttle ) so the fuselage is acting as a wing too :)

  18. Hi Mr Branson

    I have contributed greatly to virgin cable services – so I think that warrants a free flight..

    Andrew P

  19. A question was asked about why all of the porthole-windows on the fuselages. The fuselages are made of composite material and I believe they use molds in construction.
    If you look carefully the two fuselages are identical. So identical-twin bodies were built. The portholes on the left fuselage look to the right at the spacecraft. So there are portholes on the right of the twin and vice versa.
    Rhutan genius in making twins that can go on either side to save money rather than two asymmetric fuselages at higher cost.

  20. What criteria does the FAA use to certify a spaceship and a spaceship operator? Is it considered a local sightseeing flight?

  21. I think this is one of the few times imo when privatization is a really good idea. Whether we think it’s necessary or not, we need to continue to develop new forms of space travel and technology to facilitate it. What the ppl whose only argument is “we have too many problems down here to be worrying about this,” they fail to understand the two most important implications of aeronautical research. The first is for national defense… it’s bad enough that nasa has to rely on Russia to ferry them to the ISS. If we keep going at this rate, our disadvantage will only grow as they continue to develop new technologies in their space program while we pump the brakes on ours. Is air and space superiority something you really want the Russians to have? It doesn’t seem like a good idea for any one country to have, let alone one whom we have a sketchy history with. The second is that with aeronautical research comes a flood of new technologies, most of which are very applicable to us down on earth. For example, if it wasn’t for nasa, we wouldn’t have the chips that we use for non-invasive biopsies, solar energy, and a whole litany of other things ( has a good number of inventions that most of us don’t know came from our space program). And if you’re one of those ppl that are so skeptical (or cynical imo) that you still don’t think that any of the things on this list warrant a larger investment in a privatized space industry, just remember that while you sleep at night, you most likely have nasa to thank for that, too. If you use any type of home security system, chances are they use infrared and laser technology that came out of nasa’s research (just look at the adt wireless security system infrared camera page. They even admit that the technology came from nasa!)

Comments are closed.