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Virgin Galactic's second supersonic flight successful
By: Jesse Martinez
EL PASO, Texas Virgin Galactic officials announced Thursday that its reusable space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, completed its second rocket-powered supersonic flight successfully.
The spacecraft also achieved the highest altitude and greatest speed to date. Officials said the test flight demonstrated the vehicle's full technical mission profile in a single flight for the first time.
"Today, we expanded the SpaceShipTwo rocket-powered flight test envelope with a longer burn duration and robust testing of the feather mechanism, supersonic aerodynamics and wing lift structure," said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. "Each powered flight of SpaceShipTwo yields cumulative progress that builds the foundation for safe and exciting commercial space flights."
The company confirms it's on track to begin commercial service in 2014.
"We couldn't be more delighted to have another major supersonic milestone under our belts as we move toward a 2014 start of commercial service," said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson. "It was particularly thrilling to see, for the first time today, the whole elegant system in action during a single flight, including the remarkable feathering re-entry system. It was this safety feature more than anything else that originally persuaded us that the overall design of the system was uniquely fit for purpose. Everything we have seen today just confirms that view. Congratulations to all involved."
The spacecraft successfully began its launch beginning at 8 a.m. at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft brought SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 46,000 feet with Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot Dave Mackay was at the WK2 controls. Upon release from WK2, SS2 pilots Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols, both of Scaled, ignited the rocket motor for the planned 20-second burn propelling the spaceship to 69,000 feet. During this time, SS2 achieved a maximum speed of Mach 1.43. SS2 landed in Mojave at 9:25 a.m, officials said in a news release.
"This flight milestone represents a key step forward for the Virgin Galactic team. The successful completion of all major aspects of the flight mission demonstrates that we are very close to achieving one of Galactic's key goals: commercializing access to space for the broader public. I would like to congratulate the whole team on their continued success," said Chairman of Aabar Investments PJS, H.E. Khadem Al Qubaisi.