Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) has broken its own speed and altitude records in a recent test at the company’s spaceport in Mojave, California.
As part of the test, the SS2 was ferried to a 14,000 meter (46,000 foot) altitude by its carrier craft. Once there the SS2 was released and immediately began a 20 second rocket burn pushing it to 21,000 meters (69,000 feet) at a maximum speed of Mach 1.43.
After completing its burn SpaceShipTwo entered its feathering decent configuration, where the craft’s tail section is turned vertical to slow the ship's unassisted glide back to its home at the Mojave spaceport.
According to Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, “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 re-entry 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.”
With two successful tests under its belt, SpaceShipTwo is on schedule for it’s first public flight on December 25, 2013. While Virgin Galactic hasn’t announced when commercial trips to low orbit will begin, I imagine we’ll see SpaceShipTwo’s descendants ferrying people to space inside of 5 years.
Image and Video Courtesy of Virgin Galactic