During a flight test today, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo burned its engine for 60 seconds and reached an altitude of 271,268 (51.37 miles/82.7 km), which put the vehicle into space for the first time according to one definition of the boundary.
Pilots C.J. Sturckow and Mark Stucky deployed the spacecraft’s feather system — twin tail booms that re-configure the ship for re-entry — after reaching a top speed of Mach 2.9. They glided the vehicle back to a safe landing on Runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California’s High Desert.
The flight culminated 14 years of work by Richard Branson’s space company, a period that saw a decade of delay and two fatal accidents that claimed four lives.
Branson and his son, Sam, were on hand in Mojave to watch the historic flight. It was the fourth powered test for SpaceShipTwo Unity and the eighth of the program. SpaceShipTwo Enterprise broke up on its fourth flight test on Oct. 31, 2014.
Virgin Galactic plans to begin commercial service of the eight-seat suborbital spacecraft from Spaceport New Mexico after additional flight tests. Richard and Sam Branson plan to be on the first commercial flight.