April 30, 2013

Spaceship smashes sound barrier

The test flight brings Branson's Virgin Galactic enterprise closer to flying passengers into space.

The Associated Press

MOJAVE, Calif. - Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo made its first powered flight Monday, breaking the sound barrier in a test over the Mojave Desert that moves the company closer to its goal of flying paying passengers on brief hops into space.

click image to enlarge

SpaceShipTwo flies under rocket power over the Mojave Desert on Monday, in this photo provided by Virgin Galactic. The spaceship is bankrolled by British tycoon Sir Richard Branson and an Abu Dhabi investment company.

The Associated Press

"It couldn't have gone more smoothly," said Sir Richard Branson, who owns the spaceline with Aabar Investments PJC of Abu Dhabi.

A special twin-fuselage jet carrying SpaceShipTwo took off at about 7:00 a.m. PDT, spent 45 minutes climbing to an altitude of 48,000 feet and released the spaceship. Pilot Mark Stucky and co-pilot Mike Alsbury then triggered SpaceShipTwo's rocket engine.

The engine burned for 16 seconds, propelling the spaceship to an altitude of 55,000 feet and a velocity of Mach 1.2, surpassing the speed of sound. SpaceShip-Two then glided to a safe landing at Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles, said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic's CEO.

The 10-minute test flight was considered a major step for the program.

"Having spaceship and rocket perform together in the air is a long way toward getting into space," said Branson, who watched from the ground. "A few more test flights with slightly bigger burns every time, and then we'll all be back here to watch it go into space."

Until Monday, SpaceShipTwo had only performed unpowered glide flights. Several powered flights are planned this summer, culminating with a dash into space targeted toward the end of the year.

SpaceShipTwo is a prototype commercial version of SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first privately developed manned rocket to reach space. Since the historic flight, more than 500 aspiring space tourists have paid $200,000 or plunked down deposits, patiently waiting for a chance to float in weightlessness and view the Earth's curvature from 62 miles up.

Branson initially predicted commercial flights would begin in 2007, but a deadly explosion during ground testing and longer-than-expected test flights pushed the deadline back.

No date has been set for the first commercial flight from a custom-designed spaceport in New Mexico, but Virgin Galactic executives have said it will come after testing is complete and it secures approval from the government. Branson previously said the maiden passenger flight will carry his family.

SpaceShipTwo was built by Mojave-based aerospace research company Scaled Composites LLC, which was founded by cutting-edge aviation designer Burt Rutan. His SpaceShipOne, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, made three suborbital flights into space - reaching altitudes of 62 miles or greater- and won the $10 million Ansari X Prize.The Associated Press

SpaceShipTwo flies under rocket power over the Mojave Desert Monday, in this photo provided by Virgin Galactic. The spaceship is bankrolled by British tycoon Sir Richard Branson and an Abu Dhabi investment company.

 

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)