Virgin Galactic’s re-usable spacecraft SpaceShipTwo has broken its own personal record for altitude in a third supersonic test flight over the Mojave Desert in the western USA. The craft was released from its carrier and soared up to an altitude of 21,641 metres and a speed of Mach 1.4, or 1224 km/h.
The test takes the private spaceflight company one step closer to its goal of projecting paying passengers into space, where they will experience weightlessness, and a stunning view of the blue planet below.
Sir Richard Branson, co-owner of the enterprise, was characteristically optimistic, promising that “2014 will be the year when we finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space.” No dates have yet been set for a commercial flight.
The test was hailed a success by Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, who enthused that “to be behind the controls and fly it as the rocket ignited is something I will never forget. She flew brilliantly.”
On board SpaceShipTwo were Mackay and Scaled Composites’ Test Pilot Mark Stucky, and their job was to test the spaceship’s Reaction Control System and the newly installed thermal protection coating on the vehicle’s tail booms.
Video of the test shows the craft being lofted into the sky by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, and then, at an altitude of 14,021 metres, dropping from below and firing its rocket for 20 seconds up into the atmosphere.
This test flight didn’t actually take the pair into space – in order to do so they need to go quite a lot higher. According to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale you have to reach above 100 kilometres in altitude to qualify as being ‘in space’.
SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry six passengers on suborbital space flights that will allow them to experience the thrill of zero-gravity, and probably capture a pretty unique selection of selfies to post on social media in the process. The firm has already taken deposits from 580 people who have the will and the wallet to afford a taste of space.