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‘Giant step’ for space tourism: Virgin Galactic spaceship passes second flight test

SpaceShipTwo test flight 2.jpg

Sept. 5, 2013: SpaceShipTwo completes its second powered flight over the Mojave desert.More infomation on MARS Scientific and the Mobile Aerospace Reconnaissance System can be found at: www.MarsScientific.com (MARS Scientific)

Try doing this on a sightseeing bus.

A Virgin Galactic spaceship meant to shuttle tourists into space blasted through the sound barrier in its latest supersonic test flight Thursday, soaring to 69,000 feet above the planet and reaching a maximum speed of Mach 1.43 before drifting back safely to Earth.

The launch from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California was the second rocket-powered test flight for Virgin Galactic, the commercial spaceline owned by Virgin billionaire Sir Richard Branson.

'We couldn’t be more delighted to have another major supersonic milestone under our belts.'

- Virgin billionaire Sir Richard Branson

“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,” Branson said in a press release. “Congratulations to all involved!”

Virgin Galactic chief pilot Dave Mackay was at the controls of WhiteKnightTwo, essentially a flying tow truck that carried the SpaceShipTwo tourist craft to an altitude of 46,000 feet. At that point, pilots Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols ignited the rocket motor in the spacecraft for a 20-second burn, propelling it to a height of over 13 miles.

During this time, SS2 achieved a speed of Mach 1.43. Pilots called the flight “flawless.”

“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.”

The flight, which Branson described as a “giant step’ for the company, meant Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo was now the highest flying commercial winged vehicle in history.

 “Each powered flight of SpaceShipTwo yields cumulative progress that builds the foundation for safe and exciting commercial space flights,” said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides.