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Solo flight for tourism spacecraft

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Space tourism firm Virgin Galactic's commercial space vehicle model SpaceShip Two has completed its first manned solo glide test flight.

The space tourism rocket was released from its mothership at an altitude of 45,000 ft over the Mojave Desert.

After its release, the spaceship, which was manned by two pilots, flew freely for 11 minutes before landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port runway in California followed by the mothership.

The six-passenger SpaceShipTwo, which is designed to fly paying passengers, has been undergoing rigorous testing before it can carry tourists to space.

Some firms have already started developing space travel insurance plans, with research into the effect of such a journey on the human body.

The latest test marked the first time the spaceship flew on its own. The entire test flight lasted for nearly 25 minutes.

George Whitesides, chief executive, Virgin Galactic, said: "It flew beautifully."

Previous tests have involved flights where SpaceShipTwo was attached to the wing of its special jet-powered mothership WhiteKnightTwo.

John Gedmark, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said in a statement: "The flight marks another key milestone towards opening the space frontier for private individuals, researchers, and explorers."

© Press Association 2010