Monday, April 29, 2013

SpaceShipTwo breaks the speed of sound as it executes its first powered flight

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is closer to space. On Monday, the spaceliner made its first powered flight. Until then, the craft had only performed unpowered glide flights.

A special twin-fuselage jet carried SpaceShipTwo aloft at about 7:00 a.m. PDT. After 45 minutes, the two aircraft had climbed to an altitude of 48,000 feet. At that time, SpaceShipTwo was released.

Pilot Mark Stucky and co-pilot Mike Alsbury then triggered SpaceShipTwo's rocket engine. Video of the flight is embedded.

The craft's rocket engine burned for 16 seconds, raising SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 55,000 feet. In doing so, the craft broke the sound barrier, eventually reaching a velocity of Mach 1.2. SpaceShipTwo then glided to a safe landing at Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles.

The 10-minute test flight was considered a major step for the program.

Sir Richard Branson said:
It couldn't have gone more smoothly. Having spaceship and rocket perform together in the air is a long way toward getting into space.

A few more test flights with slightly bigger burns every time, and then we'll all be back here to watch it go into space.
Several more powered flights are planned for this summer. SpaceShipTwo should reach space toward the end of the year.

SpaceShipTwo is a prototype commercial version of SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first privately developed spacecraft to reach space. Since then, over 500 aspiring -- and rich -- passengers have paid the full flight fee of $200,000, or at least made a deposit.

Among those known to have already signed up are celebrities like Ashton Kutcher.

No date has been set for the first commercial flight from a custom-designed spaceport in New Mexico.

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