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Virgin Galactic test flight goes supersonic

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Raquel Maria Dillon

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Virgin Galactic test flight goes supersonic

Founder Sir Richard Branson has labelled the Virgin Galactic test flight their single most important to date as SS2 reportedly reached supersonic speeds.

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Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo has made its first powered flight, 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.

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

A special twin-fuselage jet carrying SpaceShipTwo took off on Monday at 7am US PDT (12am Tuesday AEST), 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. SpaceShipTwo then glided to a safe landing at Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles, said Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides.

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 now, SpaceShipTwo had only performed unpowered glide flights. Several powered flights are planned this year, 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 $US200,000 or plunked down deposits, patiently waiting for a chance to float in weightlessness and view the Earth's curvature from 100 kilometres 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, 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 100 kilometres or greater – and won the $US10 million Ansari X Prize.

AP

6 comments

  • i'm thinking $200,000 will be too much, xcor aerospace say they will charge $95,000 per ticket for people to ride their lynx spacecraft. The flight test will hopefully be later this year.

    Commenter
    MrTransfield
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 11:33AM
    • Too much? The tickets are nearly sold out...
      Obviously not too much for the early days. Prices will drop over time to rope in more and more, same way it worked in the early days of aviation.

      Commenter
      Honey Badger
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 12:55PM
    • Their not really paying 200k just to go to space, they are paying 200k to say they were the "first" or close to the "first" to go to space on a commercial airliner. Bit of a gimic but it builds up investment capital for Virgin.

      Commenter
      JC
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 1:19PM
  • I'm thinking both $200,000 and $95,000 are too expensive.

    I'm looking at spending $10 odd with Metro. They all get you to the same place, back here.

    (Although Metro might take a bit longer!)

    Commenter
    Pining
    Location
    My Ivory Tower
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 12:58PM
    • 2 stage flight to orbit.... makes you wonder why it has taken so long to become a reality....

      Commenter
      swinging voter
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 1:00PM
      • I hope some of that $200,000 ticket price goes towards a carbon tax.

        Commenter
        Brynjard
        Location
        Perth
        Date and time
        April 30, 2013, 1:05PM
        Comments are now closed
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