Virgin Galactic (Mojave, Calif., USA), the world’s first commercial spaceline owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS, on Sept. 5 successfully completed the second rocketpowered, supersonic flight of its passenger carrying reusable space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2).
In addition to achieving the highest altitude and greatest speed to date, the test flight demonstrated the vehicle’s full technical mission profile in a single flight for the first time, including a high-altitude deployment of the unique wing “feathering” reentry mechanism. All of the test objectives were successfully completed.
At approximately 8 a.m. local time from the Mojave Air and Space Port, the company’s WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft took off carrying SS2 to an altitude of 46,000 ft/12,192m. Virgin Galactic chief pilot Dave Mackay was at the WK2 controls, assisted by Scaled Composites copilot Mike Alsbury and The Spaceship Co. flight test engineer Scott Glaser. Upon release from WK2, SS2 pilots Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols, both of Scaled, ignited the rocket motor for the planned 20-second burn, propelling the spaceship to 69,000 ft/21,031m. During this time, SS2 achieved a maximum speed of Mach 1.43. SS2 landed in Mojave at 9.25 am local time completing the flight test with the pilots reporting a flawless flight. The craft is on schedule to enter commercial service in 2014.
Chairman of aabar Investments PJS, H.E. Khadem Al Qubaisi, comments: “This flight milestone represents a key step forward for the Virgin Galactic team. The successful completion of all major aspects of the flight mission demonstrates that we are very close to achieving one of Galactic’s key goals: commercialising access to space for the broader public. I would like to congratulate the whole team on their continued success.”
“We couldn’t be more delighted to have another major supersonic milestone under our belts as we move toward a 2014 start of commercial service,” said Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson. “It was particularly thrilling to see for the first time today the whole elegant system in action during a single flight, including the remarkable feathering reentry system. It was this safety feature more than anything else that originally persuaded us that the overall design of the system was uniquely fit for purpose. Everything we have seen today just confirms that view. Congratulations to all involved!”
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The spaceship was released from its mothership at an altitude of 45,000 ft/13,700m and glided to a safe landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.