January 15, 2014
- Virgin Galactic has made another significant step toward first public space flights as SpaceShipTwo (SS2) reached 71,000 feet and Mach 1.4 in its third rocket-powered supersonic flight January 10 from Mojave Air and Space Port.
Chief pilot Dave Mackay and Scaled Composites' test pilot Mark Stucky also successfully tested the spaceship's reaction control system (RCS) and the newly installed thermal protection coating on the vehicle's tail booms.
WhiteKnightTwo piloted by Virgin Galactic's Mike Masucci and Scaled's Mike Alsbury carried SS2 to 46,000 feet and released the craft, and SS2 ignited its rocket motor. SS2's feather re-entry system was also tested along with the RCS and thermal protection coating. The RCS will make SS2 maneuverable in space to provide optimal viewing experiences for passengers positioning for re-entry.
The new reflective protection coating on SS2's inner tail boom surfaces is being evaluated to help maintain vehicle skin temperatures while the rocket motor is firing, according to Virgin Galactic.
"2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space," commented Sir Richard Branson of SS2's third supersonic, rocket-powered test flight.
Chief pilot Mackay called the test flight - his first under rocket power as commander - a dream come true. "I have watched SS2 evolve over the years into an incredible vehicle that is going to open up space to more people than ever before," he said. "To be behind the controls and fly it as the rocket ignited is something I will never forget. She flew brilliantly. All the tests went really well and generated vital data that will be used to further fine-tune our operations."