On Monday private space tourism company Virgin Galactic successfully conducted their first rocket-powered test of SpaceShipTwo their private space plane.
The ship broke the sound barrier during its test run, after being set lose by it’s “mothership” WhiteKnightTwo.
The test sets the road for the final phase of testing — possibly to be completed by the end of the year. Then, Virgin Galactic will have to make good on the more than 500 space tourism flights they’ve sold for $200,000 each.
Here's Sir Richard Branson in SpaceShipTwo, the commercial edition of their space tourism shuttle. Branson started Virgin Galactic in 2004.
Group photo of the Future Astronauts and Sir Richard Branson outside SpaceShipTwo. The ship has done dozens of test flights, but this was the first in which they fired up the rocket engine.
Previously, they spent time testing these rockets on the ground. They'd never fired it up in the air before.
The rockets are designed by Sierra Nevada Corporation, and made especially to power the Scaled Composite's SpaceShipTwo.
SpaceShipTwo had already successfully launched from the WhiteKnightTwo, but just glided during those tests.
In Monday's historic rocket-powered test, the ship increased altitude to 56,000 feet, reached a velocity of Mach 1.2 and broke the speed of sound.
During its 13-minute flight, the space plane reached a top speed of more than 700 miles per hour before gliding back into the spaceport.
The next step will be to do longer tests of the rocket-powered SpaceShipTwo, hoping to start doing commercial trips by the end of the year.
The commercial trips will arch up to 62 miles high — technically the edge of space. Riders will experience about three-to-four minutes of weightlessness — enough time to get some science done, even.
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