Yesterday morning WhiteKnightTwo took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California with a special payload attached to it: SpaceShipTwo, making its first, albeit captive carry, flight. The flight lasted two hours and 54 minutes and achieved an altitude of about 13,700 meters (45,000 feet). The flight went well, according to all accounts, and Burt Rutan said in a Virgin statement, “The captive carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely exciting and successful spaceship flight test program.”
The flight also took place roughly on schedule. As Virgin Galactic’s Stephen Attenborough said last month at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Boulder, Colorado, the first captive carry test would take place by the end of the first quarter of this year (which it achieved with a little over a week to spare). Captive carry tests would continue through the second quarter with the first glide test some time in the third quarter; the first powered test flight would, he hoped, take place by the end of the year.
One minor thing I noted. As you can see in the picture above, SpaceShipTwo flew without an engine, or, apparently, an engine nozzle: just a black plug of some kind where the engine would go. See the closeup below:
Compare that to an image I took of the vehicle during the rollout ceremony last December, when there was at least a replica engine nozzle in place: