Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. The airline says it will carry six passengers and two pilots into space in the coming years.(Photo: Virgin Galactic)
MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) - Virgin Galactic's passenger spaceship has made its first powered test flight.
SpaceShipTwo fired its rocket engine early Monday after being released from a jet-powered mothership over California's Mojave Desert.
The rocket firing lasted 16 seconds and the spaceship then descended and landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port.
The flight did not involve a trip to space. Virgin Galactic says it's ramping up to go beyond the atmosphere later this year and begin passenger flights shortly afterward.
SpaceShipTwo is the commercial version of SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first private manned rocket to reach space.
More than 500 aspiring space tourists have paid $200,000 or plunked down deposits for a chance to experience several minutes of weightlessness.