Virgin Galactic again notches successful supersonic test flight

The third such test flight examined the spaceship's reaction control system and thermal protection.

Don Reisinger
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Don Reisinger
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Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic, the joint venture between Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments, says its third test flight was a success.

Chief pilot Dave Mackay was at the helm of the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) conducting its third successful supersonic test, Virgin Galactic announced Tuesday. In addition to ensuring the spaceship could reach supersonic speed, the team tested SS2's reaction control system and thermal protection on the tail booms.

Here's what Virgin had to say about the test flight:

Today's flight departed Mojave Air and Space Port at 7:22 a.m. PST with the first stage consisting of the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft lifting SS2 to an altitude around 46,000 ft. At the controls of WK2 were Virgin Galactic Pilot Mike Masucci and Scaled Test Pilot Mike Alsbury. On release, SS2's rocket motor was ignited, powering the spaceship to a planned altitude of 71,000 ft. - SS2's highest altitude to date - and at a maximum speed of Mach 1.4. SS2's unique feather re-entry system was also tested during today's flight.

The reaction control system's successful test was an important milestone for the Virgin Galactic team. The RCS, as it's known, give the pilots full maneuvering capability in space. The thermal protection keeps the tail safe from high temperatures while the rocket motor is firing.

Virgin Galactic was founded to get individuals into space aboard commercial spacecraft. According to the company, it has so far received $70 million in deposits from 580 people looking to visit space. A seat on Virgin Galactic's spaceship costs $250,000. Once service begins, passengers will go on suborbital space flights and experience space's zero gravity for about five minutes. Passengers will be 364,000 feet above Earth.