Virgin Galactic performed a successful test flight of the SpaceShipTwo, SS2. This marked the third supersonic test for the spaceship and SS2 reached new heights, climbing to 71,000 feet above the surface of the Earth.
The third SS2 test flight was performed on Jan. 10 at 7:22 a.m from the Mojave Air and Space Port. PST which featured Virgin Galactic Pilot Mike Masucci and Scaled Test Pilot Mike Alsbury at the helm of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. Virgin Galactic is owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and aabar Investments PJS, from Abu Dhabi.
After the SS2 was released from the aircraft, at an altitude of 46,000 feet, the spaceship ignited its rocket motor which propelled it to an altitude of 71,000 feet above Earth’s surface. The rocket motor burned for 20 seconds as planned. According to a statement released by Virgin Galactic, the test objectives, which included testing the Reaction Control System, RCS and the thermal protection coating on the spacecraft’s tail booms, were completed successfully. The RCS lets pilots control the SS2 in space while the protective coating helps “maintain vehicle skin temperatures while the rocket motor is firing.” The feathered wings for re-entry were also tested during the launch.
Branson said in a statement, “I couldn’t be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights. 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.”
While there is no schedule yet for the first commercial flight for Virgin Galactic, the company’s CEO, George Whitesides, indicated a potential 2014 start date. Whitesides said in a statement, “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.”
Virgin Galactic has already sold more than 600 tickets, costing $250,000, for a seat aboard the SS2 and has attracted plenty of celebrity attention, from Justin Bieber to Tom Hanks to Angelina Jolie. Branson and NBC announced in 2013 a new reality show, “Space Race,” where contestants will compete for a ticket to space.
The video for the SS2’s third subsonic test flight, courtesy of Virgin Galactic, can be viewed below.