SpaceShipTwo Goes Supersonic in Third Rocket-Powered Test Flight

2014 should be the year that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) brings passengers on suborbital space flights, and the company started off the year by successfully completing its third rocket-powered supersonic flight today. Virgin Galactic said they accomplished all of the objectives for this test flight.

“Today’s flight was another resounding success,” said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. “We focused on gathering more transonic and supersonic data, and our chief pilot, Dave, handled the vehicle beautifully. With each flight test, we are progressively closer to our target of starting commercial service in 2014.”

This was the third supersonic, rocket-powered test of the Virgin Galactic system after dozens of successful subsonic test flights.

Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot Dave Mackay piloted the craft along with Scaled Composites’ Test Pilot Mark Stucky. They tested the spaceship’s Reaction Control System, the newly installed thermal protection coating on the vehicle’s tail booms, and the “feather” re-entry system.

Virgin Galactic said the RCS will allow its pilots to maneuver the vehicle in space so that passengers will have great views of Earth, as well as aiding the positioning process for spacecraft re-entry. The new reflective protection coating on SS2’s inner tail boom surfaces is being evaluated to help maintain vehicle skin temperatures while the rocket motor is firing.

Today’s flight departed Mojave Air and Space Port at 7:22 a.m. PST. The WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft brought SS2 to an altitude around 46,000 ft. Then SS2 was released, and its rocket motor was ignited, powering the spaceship to a planned altitude of 71,000 ft. That is SS2’s highest altitude to date, and it also reached a speed of Mach 1.4.

“I couldn’t be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights,” said Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson. “2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space. Today, we had our own Chief Pilot flying another flawless supersonic flight and proving the various systems required to take us safely to space, as well as providing the very best experience while we’re up there.”

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004. She is the author of a new book on the Apollo program, "Eight Years to the Moon," which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible. Her first book, "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

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