Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger, two-pilot spacecraft aiming to make the world’s first commercial suborbital spaceflights later this year, conducted its third rocket-powered test flight.
With Virgin Galactic chief pilot David Mackay and co-pilot Mark Stucky at the controls, SpaceShipTwo soared to an altitude about twice as high as commercial jetliners, Virgin Galactic said on Twitter.
The 20-second rocket burn, over California’s Mojave desert, propelled the ship to 1.4 times faster than the speed of sound, the company said.
It was the third powered test flight for SpaceShipTwo, which was designed and built by Mojave, California-based Scaled Composites, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corp.
“She flew brilliantly,” Mackay said in a statement from Virgin Galactic after landing.
“To be behind the controls and fly it as the rocket ignited is something I will never forget,” Mackay added.
The spacecraft, which is hauled into the air by a carrier jet and released, also has made 28 glide flights.
It is modeled after the prize-winning SpaceShipOne prototype, which made a trio of suborbital spaceflights in 2004 to clinch the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first privately funded human spaceflights.
With SpaceShipTwo tucked between its twin hulls, Virgin Galactic’s White Knight Two carrier jet took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port just after dawn. An hour later, Mackay landed the spaceship safely back on the runway, Virgin Galactic said on Twitter. (Reuters)