Monday, 13 January 2014 09:04
January 13, 2014
Richard Branson's desire to make space tourism a reality by the end of the year is looking ever more likely after Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reached new heights in testing.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the supersonic rocket plane was able to break through the sound barrier and reach a speed of Mach 1.4, reaching a distance of 71,000 feet in the process. Branson has dedicated a significant amount of time and engineering resources to the conquest of commercial space, with the intention being to start carrying paying passengers into sub-orbit by 2015.
The latest round of testing - which took place above the Mojave Desert - was part of ongoing engineering research and development that will apply the finishing touches to a program that has received increased media attention in recent months. Much of this could be attributed to the persona of Branson himself, an entrepreneur who is always willing to himself in the spotlight, most notably when it comes to engineering ventures that spark the public imagination.
Two important elements of the SS2 were the focus of attention in the most recent round of testing - the Reaction Control System and the thermal protection coating - and both performed within their capabilities. According to a statement published on the company website, the RCS is essential for maintaining vehicle maneuverability in space, especially when considering that the commercial craft is intended to carry people and not cargo.
This was the third time that Virgin Galactic had sent the supersonic ship into the air, with the flight test providing vital engineering research for not only scientists and team members but also Chief Pilot Dave Mackay - a former airline captain with Virgin Atlantic undertaking his first supersonic flight.
"To be behind the controls and fly it as the rocket ignited is something I will never forget," he said, according to the news source. "She flew brilliantly."
Provided that testing continues to proceed with no problems, the plan is for the company to launch its first passenger flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico later this year, with sources at the firm revealing that there are already 680 confirmed reservations for the inaugural trip.
"I couldn't be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights." said Branson, in a press release. "2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space. Today, we had our own Chief Pilot flying another flawless supersonic flight and proving the various systems required to take us safely to space, as well as providing the very best experience while we're up there."
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