For the second time on Thursday, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (SS2) successfully completed a supersonic powered test flight. Ripping through the Mojave Desert skies, the space tourism vehicle hit Mach 1.43, reaching a maximum altitude of 69,000 ft, the highest the spacecraft has ever traveled.
After the suborbital spacecraft was released from the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) mothership at 46,000 ft, SS2′s rocket kicked in, carrying the vehicle and two test pilots Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols aloft. When powered flight was over, the flight test included the unique "feathering" technique during descent.
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"We couldn't be more delighted to have another major supersonic milestone under our belts as we move toward a 2014 start of commercial service," said Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic Founder. "It was particularly thrilling to see for the first time today the whole elegant system in action during a single flight, including the remarkable feathering re-entry system. It was this safety feature more than anything else that originally persuaded us that the overall design of the system was uniquely fit for purpose. Everything we have seen today just confirms that view. Congratulations to all involved!"
According to a Virgin Galactic press release, all test criteria were successfully completed - SS2 traveled faster and higher than ever before, topped off with the successful deployment of the feathering system.
The spacecraft, which was developed by Burt Rutan's Mojave-based Scaled Composites, is due to carry its first ticketed space tourists in 2014. The company currently has over 500 booked passengers paying $200,000 each for the much-coveted suborbital joyride.