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Virgin Galactic Completes First Rocket-Powered Flight Of SpaceShipTwo, Says Space Flight By End Of Year Likely

Apr 29, 2013 05:03 PM EDT
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Virgin Galactic completed the first rocket-powered flight of its space vehicle SpaceShipTwo on Monday, marking the company’s entrance into the final phase of testing prior to commercial service into space.

“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said founder Richard Branson in a press release. “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated in flight.”

The “supersonic” success, as Branson called it, opens the door for the expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope as the team progresses toward the “very realistic goal” of full space flight by the end of the year.

“We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved,” Branson said.

The test began at 7:02 a.m. local time when the spacecraft took off from Mojave Air and Space Port attached to the Virgin Galactic carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo.

Piloting the vehicle was Mark Stucky as pilot and Mike Alsbury as co-pilot, both of whom are test pilots for Scaled, which built SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic.

Controlling WhiteKnightTwo was Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot Dave Mackay. He was assisted by Clint Nichols and Brian Maiser, co-pilot and test engineer, respectively, for Scaled.

Upon reaching 47,000 feet after about 45 minutes of flight time, WhiteKnightTwo released SpaceShipTwo, at which point the latter went supersonic, achieving Mach 1.2.

“The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout,” Virgin Galactic President and CEO George Whitesides said. “The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program.”

Going forward, Virgin Galactic and Scaled will proceed to expand the spaceship’s powered flight envelope culminating in full space flight.

“This milestone has been a long time coming and it’s only through the hard work of the team and the tremendous support of Virgin Galactic that we have been able to witness this important milestone,” said President of Scaled Kevin Mickey. “We look forward to all our upcoming tests and successes.”

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