Today Marks Virgin Galactic's First Rocket-Powered Test Flight

Illustration for article titled Today Marks Virgin Galactics First Rocket-Powered Test Flight

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.

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Illustration for article titled Today Marks Virgin Galactics 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.

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Illustration for article titled Today Marks Virgin Galactics First Rocket-Powered Test Flight
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In late February, Virgin successfully tested the very rocket that would power its first rocket-powered test flight.

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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.

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Updating...

Looks like SS2 has been released but still no mention of a rocket being fired.

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Scratch that. Here we go!

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And she's back on the ground. We'll update with images and videos as soon as they become available.

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There she is.

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Pilots Stucky and Alsbury confirm that SpaceShipTwo broke the speed of sound on its test flight. Still waiting on official images and videos.

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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.

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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.

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And here's your first shot of SpaceShipTwo firing its rocket.

Illustration for article titled Today Marks Virgin Galactics First Rocket-Powered Test Flight
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Here's another shot of SS2. This is epic.

Illustration for article titled Today Marks Virgin Galactics First Rocket-Powered Test Flight
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And another from the boom cam.

Illustration for article titled Today Marks Virgin Galactics First Rocket-Powered Test Flight
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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.”

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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.”

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Virgin is expected to make its first full space flight before the end of the year.

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DISCUSSION

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Die Fledermaus von Gotham

Not that it's not a milestone and all, but the Concorde could and did reach Mach 2 consistently. At the very least British Airways flew them and was most certainly a commercial company with the aircraft itself being built by BAC who was also a commercial aircraft manufacturer. I have to imagine that BAC test flew the Concorde, so I'm not sure where the "First!" tweet has any ground to stand on.

On the other hand: Hooray commercial space flight!