Feeds

Branson's SpaceShipTwo succeeds in first rocket-powered flight

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

Security for virtualized datacentres

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." ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
OK Google, do I have CANCER?
Company talks up pill that would spot developing tumors
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
The hidden costs of self-signed SSL certificates
Exploring the true TCO for self-signed SSL certificates, including a side-by-side comparison of a self-signed architecture versus working with a third-party SSL vendor.