Earlier this month, Virgin Chairman Richard Branson announced at the launch of Virgin America's new route through Newark that his other flying endeavor would be hitting a huge milestone this month: Its first rocket-powered test flight.
From the looks of Virgin Galactic and Branson's Twitter feeds this morning, it looks like that time has come.
Occasionally you have days that are ridiculously exciting. Today is such a day.— richardbranson (@richardbranson) April 29, 2013
Planning something truly momentous with @virgingalactic today - watch this space— richardbranson (@richardbranson) April 29, 2013
SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo are on the runway this morning for another exciting test flight! Stay tuned for photos & live status updates— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) April 29, 2013
In late February, Virgin successfully tested the very rocket that would power its first rocket-powered test flight.
While neither account has specified that this test is, in fact, of the rocket-powered variety, Galactic PR did confirm to me earlier this month that the test would take place before the end of the month and, well, it's the end of the month. Not to mention all the buzz on Twitter from various Virgin groups and notable individuals, I think it's safe to say that this is the day the whole team at Galactic and space traveling enthusiasts have been looking forward to for some time.
WhiteKnightTwo & SpaceShipTwo just took off. WK2’s 115th flight, SS2’s 26th. Stay tuned for updates. Stucky & Alsbury flying SS2.— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) April 29, 2013
Looks like SS2 has been released but still no mention of a rocket being fired.
SS2’s pilots have just given the “release” command, and SpaceShipTwo is now flying freely for the 26th time. Photos and more details to come— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) April 29, 2013
Scratch that. Here we go!
For the 1st time ever, SS2 has lit her rocket engine in flight! A major milestone in human spaceflight. Photos, video, and details to follow— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) April 29, 2013
And she's back on the ground. We'll update with images and videos as soon as they become available.
Wheels stop—SpaceShipTwo safely on the ground after a triumphant day in the sky. So proud of our team! Pics, video, details coming soon— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) April 29, 2013
There she is.
Pilots Stucky and Alsbury confirm that SpaceShipTwo broke the speed of sound on its test flight. Still waiting on official images and videos.
Pilots Stucky and Alsbury confirm: SpaceShipTwo exceeded the speed of sound on today’s flight! Photos, video, and details to follow— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) April 29, 2013
Well, this is rather interesting. Today's test touched on many a milestone for Virgin Galactic, but I didn't know that a commercial vehicle had never broken Mach 1.
Huge milestone for @virgingalactic says George W: first rocket motor burn, first time supersonic, first commercial vehicle to break Mach 1.— W. Christine Choi (@virginchoi) April 29, 2013
As it turns out, Galactic is not, in fact, the first commercial vehicle to break Mach 1, it's just the first commercial spaceship to do so.
Congratulations Sir Richard!Virgin Galactic just went Mach 1 (first commercial spaceship to do so). twitter.com/Lori_Garver/st…— Lori Garver (@Lori_Garver) April 29, 2013
And here's your first shot of SpaceShipTwo firing its rocket.
Here's another shot of SS2. This is epic.
And another from the boom cam.
This morning's test took off at 7:02AM local time in the Mojave. Branson had this to say via a press release:
“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson, who was on the ground in Mojave to witness the occasion. “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved.”
According to the release, SS2 was released from WK2 45 minutes into the flight at about 47,000 feet. Once all systems were go, aviator Mark Stucky and his co-pilot Mike Alsbury flipped the switch for a 16 second burn that took SS2 up to 55,000 feet. In the process, SS2 reached Mach 1.2 going supersonic.
“The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout,” said Virgin Galactic President & CEO George Whitesides. “The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.”
Virgin is expected to make its first full space flight before the end of the year.