Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Reaches Mach 1.2 In Test Flight
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo broke the sound barrier for the first time on Monday, reaching Mach 1.2 in a test flight.
In a blog post today, founder of Virgin Galactic Richard Branson announced the “momentous” feat that the company had achieved.
“It marks the moment when we put together two key elements of our spaceflight system — the spacecraft and its rocket motor, which have both been tested extensively by themselves over several years — and start the phase of testing that will demonstrate our vehicle´s ability to go to space (hopefully later this year),” Branson wrote.
SpaceShipTwo flies out of the Mojave Air and Space Port underneath the belly of Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane.
“It is a tremendous achievement and a testament to the hard work and meticulous preparation by everyone involved,” Branson said. “Like our hundreds of customers from around the world, my children and I cannot wait to get on board this fantastic vehicle for our own trip to space and am delighted that today´s milestone brings that day much closer.”
Virgin says that over 500 people have signed up for the suborbital space tour so far, which costs $200,000 a seat. During these tours, passengers will get to experience a few minutes of free-floating weightlessness at 359,040 feet high.
The company says that Monday’s test marks the final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said Branson. “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today´s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship´s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year´s end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn´t be more proud of everyone involved.”
Virgin Galactic kicked off the test this morning at 7:02 a.m., sending SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 47,000 feet about 45 minutes into flight. After cross checking data, pilots triggered ignition of the rocket motor, causing the main oxidizer valve to open and igniters to fire within the fuel case. This propelled SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 55,000 feet at a supersonic speed of Mach 1.2.
“The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout,” said Virgin Galactic President & CEO George Whitesides. “The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.”