Space tourism is one step closer to becoming a reality as Virgin Galactic successfully completed the second supersonic test of its SpaceShipTwo (SS2) vehicle over the Mojave Desert in California this week.
The flight “demonstrated the vehicle’s full technical mission profile in a single flight for the first time, including a high altitude deployment of the unique wing ‘feathering’ re-entry mechanism,” according to a statement
from the company.
Virgin Galactic said the flight achieved the highest altitude and greatest speed yet for its new spacecraft.
SS2 was taken aloft by the carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), which took the spacecraft to an altitude of just over 14,000 meters. When SS2 was released, the rocket motor was ignited for a 20-second burn that shot the spacecraft to just over 21,000 meters above Earth at a speed of Mach 1.43.
“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 Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson. “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.”
The company plans to begin commercial spaceflight in 2014.
Here's a video of the flight:
Here's footage taken from the tail-mounted cameras: