Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) successfully completed its second rocket-powered, supersonic flight Thursday, lifting the passenger-carrying reusable space vehicle to an altitude of 69,000 before gliding back to earth.

Virgin Galactic announced Friday that it has done a second successful test run of a supersonic craft designed to boldy go where few tourists have gone before — outer space.

The SpaceShip Two, or SS2 as it is being called, soared to 69,000 feet and eclipsed the speed of sound before it glided gently back down to Mother Earth and landed in the Mojave Desert.

Test pilots Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols were at the controls for the hour-long thrill ride that beat the altitude and speed marks set in April on the first test run of the rocket-powered craft, the company said.

This was also the first time they deployed the ship’s new “feather system” on reentry — a gizmo inspired by badminton shuttlecocks.

“The wing and tail sections rotate upward into what we call the feather position, allowing the vehicle to slow its rate of descent smoothly and stably, just like a shuttlecock,” said Sir Richard Branson, who co-owns Virgin Galactic with an Abu Dhabi investment group.  The sleek SS2 rocketed into the cosmos Thursday in two stages.

A giant jet-powered cargo aircraft called WhiteKnightTwo carried it to an altitude of 46,000 feet.

Then the spacecraft pilots ignited the rockets and the SS2 soared 23,000 feet furthur in just seconds in a trail of orange flames.

It reached a speed of Mach 1.43 which is well above 761.2 mph or the speed of sound.

“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,” Branson said.

Branson, in a promotional video, said they are in the process of finalizing things like the interior design and flight crew uniforms and hope to launch commercial service sometime next year.

“I can’t wait to get up there,” he said.

Already, about 625 people have made reservations. Among those who reportedly have plunked down a desposit for the $250,000 flights are actor Leo DeCaprio and teen sensation Justin Bieber.

If all goes as planned, and the Virgin Galactic flights do begin in 2014, they would only be seven years behind schedule.

Way back 2004, Branson predicted that by 2007 passengers would be able to shell out $200,000 per ticket and soar for three hours through the stratosphere.

The plan was that once riders were 80 miles above the Earth’s surface, they would get to experience a few minutes of zero gravity, some spectacular views — and maybe a rum and coke or two.

“If we get the liquor license,” Branson said at the time, “I’m over the moon.”

Not quite. The moon is about 239,000 miles farther.
source: http://www.nydailynews.com