Mojave Air and Space Port in eastern Kern County was the scene this
morning of the second powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo, the spaceplane in
which Virgin Galactic expects to send hundreds, maybe thousands, of well-heeled
tourists to suborbital space beginning as early as next year.
According to the commercial space company and sources on the ground, the mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, took off at about 8:06 a.m. under ideal conditions carrying SpaceShipTwo beneath its twin fuselage.
WhiteKnightTwo slowly climbed to a predetermined altitude, then released the spaceplane, allowing it to fire its hybrid rocket engines, which have only been tested in flight once before, on April 29.
During that April flight SpaceShipTwo's engines succeeded in sustaining a 16-second burn, propelling the craft to Mach 1.22, faster than the speed of sound.
Details of this morning's flight performance were not immediately available, but Virgin said on Twitter that all planned duration, altitude and speed parameters were met. The spaceplane landed safely in Mojave at a few minutes after 9 a.m.
In addition, Virgin Galactic said, pilots Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols successfully tested the space vehicle's feather system for "carefree" re-entry, the first time that's happened on a rocket-powered flight.
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