Commercial spaceflight took a major step forward yesterday, as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo completed its first powered flight high above the Mojave Desert in California. The vehicle was dropped from mothership WhiteKnightTwo at an altitude of 47,000 feet. It then fired its rocket engines for a brief 16 seconds, which propelled it to an altitude of 56,200 feet. During the flight, SpaceShipTwo traveled faster than sound, achieving a speed of Mach 1.2.
The company has now posted a video with four different views of the flight, including a spectacular view from the wing tips that captures earth, ship, and the rocket engines firing.
With the successful flight, SpaceShipTwo is on the way to carrying passengers past the edge of space as early as next year. A number of test flights still remain, including flying into space, which is officially 100 kilometers (62 miles) in altitude.
SpaceShipTwo has been in development for eight years. Despite the slower than planned progress, British billionaire Richard Branson, who is backing the project, is excited, as he wrote on his company blog:
“This is a momentous day and the single most important flight test to date for our Virgin Galactic program. What a feeling to be on the ground with all the team in Mojave to witness Virgin Galactic go faster than the speed of sound.”
More than 500 have signed up to pay $200,000 per ticket. The flight will be short, as it is a suborbital space craft, meaning that it climbs into space and then falls back to earth, rather than building up enough speed to stay in orbit. Passengers will experience several minutes of weightlessness and an incredible view of space through SapceShipTwo’s many windows.