Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) broke its own speed and altitude records on Thursday as it successfully completed its second rocket-powered, supersonic flight. At 8:00 AM PDT, SS2 took off slung beneath the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft from Virgin Galactic’s Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California. According to the company, the tourism spacecraft went through its full technical mission profile in a single flight for the first time, including the deployment of its “feathering” re-entry mechanism at high altitude.
SS2 was released from the carrier at 46,000 ft (14,000 m) and the rocket motor burned for 20 seconds, pushing the spacecraft to an altitude of 69,000 ft (21,000 m) and a maximum speed of Mach 1.43 (946 knots, 1,088 mph, 1,752 km/h). After engine shutdown, the pilot deployed the feathering system, where the tail section is rotated to vertical and the ship’s descent is slowed using the same principle as a shuttle cock. The craft landed in a controlled, unpowered glide at Mojave at 9:25 AM.
“We couldn't be more delighted to have another major supersonic milestone under our belts as we move toward a 2014 start of commercial service,” said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson. “It was particularly thrilling to see for the first time today the whole elegant system in action during a single flight, including the remarkable feathering re-entry system. It was this safety feature more than anything else that originally persuaded us that the overall design of the system was uniquely fit for purpose. Everything we have seen today just confirms that view.”