Feeds

Branson's SpaceShipTwo succeeds in first rocket-powered flight

55,000 feet? Check. Break sound barrier? Check. Safe landing? Check

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Finally. Sir Richard Branson's long-delayed commercial spaceliner, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, has successfully completed its first rocket-powered test flight.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo on successful April 29, 2013 test flight

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo during its first rocket-powered test flight (click to enlarge)

"For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight," Branson said in a release announcing the Monday flight. "We saw history in the making today and I couldn't be more proud of everyone involved."

The test began at 7:02am on Monday morning, when the SS2 and its carrier aircraft, the WhiteKnightTwo, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California. Both the SS2 and WhiteKnightTwo were designed and built by Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites for Virgin Galactic's wholly owned subsidiary, The Spaceship Company.

About three-quarters of an hour after takeoff, when the pair had reached about 47,000 feet, the SS2 was released and pilot Mark Stucky and copilot Mike Alsbury fired up its rocket engine for a 16-second burn that took it to 55,000 feet and a maximum velocity of Mach 1.2. Ten minutes later, the SS2 landed back at the Mojave Air and Space Port runway.

Today's flight was a long time coming. Branson began talking about his ideas for space tourism as early as 1999, and attracted such potential passengers as Sigourney Weaver and William Shatner after Rutan won the $10m Ansari X Prize with his SpaceShipOne, funded by Microsoft founder Paul Allen, in 2004.

Shatner, however, later relented, saying, "I'm interested in man's march into the unknown but to vomit in space is not my idea of a good time. Neither is a fiery crash with the vomit hovering over me."

Captain Kirk need not have worried that his lunch would be put under duress anytime soon. As The Wall Street Journal points out, Virgin Galactic's space-tourism flights were originally scheduled to have begun in 2008. Didn't happen. The target date was then moved to 2010. Again, nope. Revision number three put liftoff in 2012. Another deadline missed.

But let's not carp; the road to today's successful test has been fraught with obstacles, including a tragic accident in 2007 in which three were killed and three badly injured, and a "touch and go" runway smackdown of WhiteKnightTwo in 2009.

Now, the WSJ says, Virgin Galactic and Branson are declining to give a firm date for when their sub-orbital space tourism might begin, but earlier reports put the start of commercial operations at late this year or sometime in 2014.

Whenever it should occur, however, Branson plans to be aboard the first six-passenger flight that will achieve a 60-mile altitude while traveling at 2,500 miles per hour – along with his two children, "if my wife allows." ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
LIFE, JIM? Comet probot lander found 'ORGANICS' on far-off iceball
That's it for God, then – if Comet 67P has got complex molecules
Rosetta probot drilling DENIED: Philae has its 'LEG in the AIR'
NOT best position for scientific fulfillment
'Yes, yes... YES!' Philae lands on COMET 67P
Plucky probot aces landing on high-speed space rock - emotional scenes in Darmstadt
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rocking boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
THERE it is! Philae comet lander FOUND in EXISTING Rosetta PICS
Crumb? Pixel? ALIEN? Better, it's a comet-catcher!
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence
Download Choosing a Cloud Hosting Provider with Confidence to learn more about cloud computing - the new opportunities and new security challenges.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.