Virgin billionaire Sir Richard Branson is a happy man today as his company successfully completed the second rocket-powered test flight for Virgin Galactic, the commercial spaceline that he hopes will be open for paying customers in 2014.
Virgin Galactic chief pilot Dave Mackay was at the controls of WhiteKnightTwo, the craft that flies up to an altitude of 46,000 feet and carries the smaller vehicle that the space tourists will be in. There was only pilots Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols inside SpaceShipTwo for this test flight, but they broke away from the mother craft in spectacular fashion. The SpaceShipTwo dropped away and began a 20-second burn, propelling it to a speed of Mach 1.43 (1,088.5 mph) and climbed an impressive 13 miles further up into the atmosphere. After engine shutdown, the pilot deployed the feathering system, where the tail section is rotated to vertical and the ship’s descent is slowed using the same principle as a shuttle cock.
“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 flight was described Sir Richard Branson as a “giant step’ for the company and that Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo has become the highest flying commercial winged vehicle in history. Virgin Galactic reports that it’s already sold roughly 625 tickets at a cost of $250,000 each — up from initial estimate price of $200,000.
Check out Branson’s narration of the test second flight below. It might just save you $250,000 by watching the video!
SpaceShipTwo Tail Footage from Flight: