Wed, May 01, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Virgin Galactic test flies rocketship for private space travel

AFP, WASHINGTON

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two flies over the Mojave Desert in California on Monday in this handout photograph provided by the Griffin Communications Group.

Photo: Rueters / MarsScientific.com / Clay Center Observatory

Virgin Galactic’s passenger spaceplane, which is designed to take tourists to the edge of space, flew its first rocket-powered test flight on Monday, breaking the sound barrier at high altitude.

SpaceShipTwo (SS2) ignited its engine after being released by WhiteKnightTwo, a plane that carried it to 14km above California’s Mojave Desert, British billionaire Richard Branson’s firm said in a statement.

As planned, the rocket burned for 16 seconds — enough to propel the spacecraft 15.2km at 1.2 times the speed of sound, the statement said.

“For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight,” said Branson, who observed the flight from the ground.

He expects that the successful test would pave the way to “full space flight by the year’s end.”

Next time, the company plans to keep the rocket going longer to bring SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of more than 100km, on the edge of space.

During the rocket-powered flight, pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury commanded SS2, which landed safely on the runway of the Mohave Air and Space Port shortly after 8am, just 10 minute after taking off.

More than 500 people have already reserved seats and paid a deposit on the US$200,000 ticket price for a minutes-long suborbital flight on SS2.

Branson has also said that he will bring his family on one of the flights to show his confidence in the safety of the spacecraft.

SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and is the commercial version of SpaceShipOne — the first private spacecraft to reach the edge of space in 2004 — which is now on displace at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

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