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!"