Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Glides Through Test Run

Image: SpaceShipTwo landing
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane lands at California's Mojave Air and Space Port on Tuesday after its 54th test flight. Jason DiVenere / Scaled Composites

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane soared into the air and glided back down during a test flight on Tuesday. It was the first time the craft left the ground since a similar gliding test in August.

After SpaceShipTwo's release from its WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane, test pilots Pete Siebold of Scaled Composites and C.J. Sturckow of Virgin Galactic guided the craft back to California's Mojave Air and Space Port. "Today's flight brings spaceflight closer," Virgin Galactic tweeted after the landing.

Last weekend, during a session to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the final spaceflight by SpaceShipOne, the current plane's smaller predecessor, Virgin founder Richard Branson said his company was "on the verge" of sending passengers to the final frontier.

Branson has said he would take the inaugural passenger flight to space from Spaceport America in New Mexico early next year, but that timetable depends on progress in the test program. More than 700 would-be passengers already have made reservations at a price that currently stands at $250,000 per seat.

Sir Richard Branson going into space in early 2015 4:09


— Alan Boyle

NBCUniversal has established a multi-platform partnership with Virgin Galactic to track the development of SpaceShipTwo and televise Branson's spaceflight.