Virgin Galactic Gets Another Step Closer to Space Tourism

SpaceShipTwo makes first rocket-powered test flight

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 29, 2013 4:55 PM CDT

(Newser) – We're one step closer to space tourism, as Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo made history today: The private spaceship, designed for future commercial flights, successfully completed its first rocket-powered test flight, Space.com reports. The WhiteKnightTwo mothership carried the spaceship into the air, released it at 46,000 feet, and then SpaceShipTwo test-fired its rocket engines for the first time. The engines are meant to propel the ship into space; today, it reached 56,000 feet in a span of 16 seconds, then returned to the ground.

SpaceShipTwo hit Mach 1.2, or 761 miles per hour, faster than the speed of sound. Virgin Galactic's president called the flight "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." If future tests are also successful, passengers may be able to go to space (for $200,000 a pop) by next year. Sir Richard Branson, who owns the Virgin Group, called the flight "history in the making" and said the "goal of full space flight by the year’s end" is "very realistic."

This photo provided by Virgin Galactic shows Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005.   (AP Photo/Virgin Galactic, Mark Greenberg)
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Footage of the test flight.   (Pln9JKEjFks)

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