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SpaceShipTwo Makes First Powered Flight, Goes Supersonic

 

SpaceShipTwo
SpaceShipTwo's first powered flight goes supersonic on April 29, ushering in the final phase of vehicle testing prior to beginning commercial service.
(Telescopic image courtesy of MarsScientific.com/Clay Center Observatory)

April 29, 2013 - SpaceShipTwo completed its first successful powered flight this morning above the Mojave Air and Space Port, Virgin Galactic reported Monday.

Paired with mothership WhiteKnightTwo, SS2 took off just after 7 a.m. PDT, was lifted to an altitude of 47,000 feet MSL, and was then released. After verifying stable control, Mark Stucky, pilot, and Mike Alsbury, copilot, ignited the rocket motor and the craft shot to a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet, achieving a speed of Mach 1.2 in the process.

"The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was, without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date," said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson, who was in Mojave for the milestone flight. "For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. 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."

The test flight ushers in Virgin Galactic's final phase of vehicle testing prior to beginning commercial service from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The team will expand the powered flight envelope in the coming months with hopes of entering suborbital space by year's end.

At the WK2 controls were Virgin Galactic's chief pilot Dave Mackay, copilot Clint Nichols, and flight test engineer Brian Maisler.

The rocket engine was ignited for 16 seconds as planned, and the entire rocket-powered flight test lasted more than 10 minutes before the pilots made a smooth landing at about 8 a.m.

"The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance, and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout," said Virgin Galactic President/CEO George Whitesides. "The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space."

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