Published: Sat, April 07, 2018
Sport | By Stuart Potter

Virgin spaceplane makes maiden rocket-powered flight

Virgin spaceplane makes maiden rocket-powered flight

Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane flew a smooth, supersonic test flight today during its first rocket-powered outing since the first SpaceShipTwo broke up three and a half years ago.

With this test flight accomplished, Virgin Galactic says that it's now ready to enter "the exciting phase of powered flight and the expansion to full duration rocket burns".

The rocket ship accelerated past the speed of sound for just a moment before slowing down and turning around for a glide back home.

"Space feels tantalizingly close now", tweeted an ecstatic Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic, after the brief flight. Burning a mixture of rubber-based solid fuel - called HTPB - and nitrous oxide, the rear-mounted rocket engine propelled SpaceShipTwo to almost twice the speed of sound as the pilots maneuvered the craft on an 80-degree climb. For now, the company's engineers will be reviewing the valuable flight, motor, and performance data gleaned from the test flight.

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Congratulations to the teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for a job well done today - and in recognition of their pursuit to open space and change the world for good. After two years of ground and atmospheric testing, the passing of this milestone marks the start of the final portion of VSS Unity's flight test program.

The view from Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity during the spaceliner's first rocket-powered test on April 5, 2018. Pilots Dave Mackay and Mark Stucky separated Unity from its carrier aircraft at an altitude of 46,500 feet, then fired its rocket motor to reach 84,271 feet before returning to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. About 700 customers have already put down deposits for space tourism packages costing as much as $250,000.

Aerospace organizations from a nation away congratulated the NewSpace firm on its successful test flight.

Eventually, Virgin Galactic plans to carry tourists on suborbital hops into the lower reaches of space, where they can see Earth far below and the stars beyond. "While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead", the company stated in a release issued after the flight.

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