Virgin Galactic completed on Monday the first rocket-powered flight of its sub-orbital space vehicle SpaceShipTwo at the Mojave Air & Space Port.
SpaceShipTwo flew to an altitude of 55,000 feet after being released by the carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo at 47,000 feet. The rocket engine ignited for 16 seconds and propelled the space vehicle to a speed of Mach 1.2.
British entrepreneur Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, was at the spaceport about 30 miles north of Lancaster for the test, which he called the most important so far for the vehicle.
“For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight,” said Branson, in a prepared statement. “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.”
Commercial operations offering tourists an opportunity to experience space travel will take place at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Despite a ticket cost of $200,000, the company reportedly has a waiting list in the hundreds.
SpaceShipTwo was built as a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, a Mojave-based division of Northrop Grumman Corp.