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Virgin Galactic completes first in-flight rocket test

Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline has completed the first rocket-powered flight of its space vehicle SpaceShipTwo (SS2).


The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 carries out its first in-flight rocket test

The test, conducted by teams from Scaled Composites (Scaled) and Virgin Galactic, is said to mark Virgin Galactic’s entrance into the final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

In a statement Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic said, ‘The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date.

‘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.’

Virgin Galactic's space tourism cruiser goes supersonic as it lights rocket engine in flight for the first time

The test began at 7am local time when SS2 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port whilst connected to WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft.


SpaceShipTwo’s rocket burn was brief

Piloting SS2 were Mark Stucky, pilot, and Mike Alsbury, co-pilot, who are test pilots for Scaled, which built SS2 for Virgin Galactic. At the WK2 controls were Virgin Galactic’s chief pilot Dave Mackay, assisted by Clint Nichols and Brian Maisler, co-pilot and flight test engineer, respectively, for Scaled.

Upon reaching 46,000 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, causing the main oxidizer valve to open and igniters to fire within the fuel case. SS2 was then propelled forward and upward to a maximum altitude of 56,000 feet. The entire engine burn lasted 16 seconds. During this time, SS2 went supersonic, achieving Mach 1.2.

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

In the coming months, the Virgin Galactic and Scaled 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.

Readers' comments (10)

  • I hope Branson's treatment of those booking a flight is better than that experienced booking his ballon flights . 5 flights cancelled then told needed another £85 because we failed to book flight during winter when no flights made . His penalties may be some what higher for the space flight !

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  • In the grip of major energy and pollution problems, unless this takes real space exploration a huge step forward, then it is nothing short of criminal and should be treated as such.

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  • Criminal? Not sure this creates much in the way of pollution. But if it opens up space again it will be well worth it and long overdue. Maybe it will shame the governments of UK & USA into getting back to proper exploration. More power to Mr Branson I say.

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  • There are more than enough problems being caused by the expansion of normal aviation without the vast energy requirements and pollution caused by non-essential space tourism.

    The only reasonable purpose of this sort of travel would be to allow us to escape from the earth when we have totally messed up our environment to the point where life cannot be sustained.

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  • Well done Mr Branson it's about time somebody pushed the technological advances in space travel. Not sure space tourism is the future but it certainly will open up new possibilities.

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  • Interesting how people are complimenting Richard Branson, but not Burt Rutan. You know, the man who actually invented SpaceShipTwo.

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  • We have surely already learned that government - led and politically motivated scientific research, although welcome, inevitably becomes inefficient and subject to whim.
    So now firms like Virgin Galactic and others are doing it for us, and its free; paid for by those who wish to enjoy the experience, not the general taxpayer. Whilst none can yet match public-funded space research, they have to start somewhere and I salute and thank them and their customers.

    If so many of us wish to enjoy the freedom of travel, we need technical advance to improve the means and make it less harmful to the environment. This can only be achieved by effort and, as with all technology, advance in any given area almost allways leads to spin-off advances elsewhere.

    We need such people as Burt Rutan and Richard Branson.

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  • Technical advances ? Don't make me laugh ! This was achievable probably immediately post-war, certainly in the 1950's. the reason it wasn't done was simple; only the governments then had the resouces, but this had no value. It has no relevance. It does not so far contribute anything to actual space travel and doesn't look likely to. Mr Branson- for whom I have considerable regard- will soon move on to the next foxy toy.

    I am however selfish enough to wish I could afford a ticket despite the damaging effect on both my conscience and the environment of so much unnecessary pollution.

    A big vanity project is all.

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  • So Richard Branson chooses to spend his money on Space Tourism, why get so het up about it, people have motor cycles, cars, planes & who knows what other toys. What gets peoples craw is that he's super rich & likes better toys than we can afford!! Good on him!

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  • It's not so much what he's spending his money on, as him expecting other people to spend money on it.

  • Toys we all have to pay for, including your pet dog.

    Report of the cleanup cost:

    Astronaut commentary: the fragility of our earth and necessity to preserve. Responsibility!:

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