What's Next: Sir Richard Branson's Spaceship Moves Closer to Reality

moonVirgin Galactic has announced that the company’s space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), has successfully completed its first rocket-powered flight. The test marks Virgin Galactic’s entry into the final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service, the company reports.

“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson, who was on the ground in Mojave to witness the occasion. “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved.”

The test began at 7.02am local time when SS2 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in New Mexico while mated to WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft.

Upon reaching 47,000 feet altitude and approximately 45 minutes into the flight, SS2 was released from WK2. After cross-checking data and verifying stable control, the pilots triggered ignition of the rocket motor. SS2 reached a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet and speeds of Mach 12.

The entire rocket-powered flight test lasted just over 10 minutes, culminating in a smooth landing for SS2 in Mojave at approximately 8am local time.

“The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout,” said Virgin Galactic President & CEO George Whitesides. “The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.”

In the coming months, the test team will expand the spaceship’s powered flight envelope culminating in full space flight, which the companies anticipate will take place before the end of 2013.

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