Virgin Galactic tourist spaceship breaks sound barrier
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo broke the sound barrier for the first time on Monday, reaching Mach 1.2 in a test flight.
Virgin Galactic‘s passenger spaceplane, which is designed to take tourists to the edge of space, flew its first rocket-powered test flight Monday, breaking the sound barrier at high altitude.
SpaceShipTwo ignited its engine after being released by WhiteKnightTwo, a plane that carried it to 47,000 feet (14,000 meters) above California’s Mojave desert. The rocket burned, as planned, for 16 seconds — enough to propel the spacecraft to 55,000 feet at 1.2 times the speed of sound.
“For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight,” said Richard Branson, who observed from the ground.
He predicted the successful test would pave the way to “full space flight by the year’s end.”
Next time, the company plans to keep the rocket going longer, to bring SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of more than 328,000 feet (100 kilometers), on the edge of space.
During the rocket-powered flight, pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury commanded the SS2, which, after just 10 minutes, landed safely on the runway of the Mohave Air and Space Port.
More than 500 people have already reserved seats — and paid a deposit on the $200,000 ticket price — for a minutes-long suborbital flight on SS2.
Branson has also said that he’ll bring his family on one of the flights to show his confidence in the safety of the spacecraft. SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers.