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First full ‘spaceline’ test flight successful

Test marks a pivotal point for Virgin Galactic

Posted: April 30, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 30, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Richard Branson, in dark jacket, and test pilot Mark Stucky after a successful test flight Monday morning.

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At 8 a.m. local time on Monday, a rocket-powered flight of the world’s first commercial “spaceline,” by Virgin Galactic, owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, ended in a smooth landing in the Mojave Desert.

The test flight, which lasted just over 10 minutes, was a test of its space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo – the first commercial passenger space vehicle.

As of Monday morning, Virgin Galactic is now entering the final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service, the company said in a press release issued after the successful test flight.

“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise, was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson.

Last March, Saugus resident Joe Brennan, Director of Production Operations at Virgin Galactic’s The Spaceship Company, which manufactured and assembled the fleet of commercial space vehicles, said the White-KnightTwo carrier ships were built to carry spaceships upward some 50,000 feet, launching the SpaceShipTwo passenger vehicles into space.

Monday’s test began at 7:02 a.m. local time when SpaceShipTwo took off from Mojave Air and Space Port, mated to WhiteKnightTwo, Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft. It was conducted by teams involved in the joint effort, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites.

Upon reaching 47,000 feet altitude and approximately 45 minutes into the flight, SpaceShipTwo was released from the carrier craft, at which point the pilots triggered ignition of the rocket motor. At this point, SpaceShip-Two was propelled forward and upward to a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet.

During this time, the space ship went supersonic, achieving Mach 1.2, the company said.

Virgin Galactic first received a $230 million startup investment, Brennan said. The company spends millions each year in the development phase.

Once the company had its completed testing and had its final building specs, it would be able to finish building the first vehicles for private space travel, he said.

Compared to the government programs, like NASA, which spend billions per year, Virgin Galactic can be more cost effective because private industry can be more efficient, Brennan said.

In November 2012, Branson brought the operations of The Spaceship Company, which manufactured and assembled the fleet of commercial space vehicles, under the Virgin Galactic brand.

As for Monday’s test flight, the program is now poised to move forward.

“The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program,” said Virgin Galactic President & CEO George Whitesides. “We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.”

In the coming months, the Virgin Galactic and Scaled test team will expand the spaceship’s powered flight project, culminating in full space flight, which the companies anticipate will take place before the end of 2013.

To date, Virgin Galactic has accepted more than $70 million in deposits from approximately 580 individuals, the company announced. That passenger number is nearly 10 percent more than the total number of people who have ever gone to space.




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