For the past few years, Virgin Galactic has been making slow, but steady, steps towards bring us the first commercial space flights for tourists. The program has had its challenges, and the initial passenger flights have been delayed numerous times, but last week the company took a major step towards launching the service when their specially designed, reusable aircraft, the SpaceShipTwo, made its highest and fastest flight yet.
The SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry two pilots and six passengers on a near-orbital flight that will even invoke zero gravity. It has been in testing for the past couple of years, and last Friday the rocket-plane demonstrated that it is nearly ready for prime time. The little ship is carried aloft by the WhiteKnight Two aircraft and is then dropped at an altitude of about 46,000 feet (14,000 meters). After separating from its sister-ship, the SpaceShip Two then ignites its engine and zooms up high into the atmosphere.
Last week, it soared as high as 71,000 feet (21,640 meters) and reaching speeds of Mach 1.4, or roughly 761 mph (1,224 km/h) in the process. Those are excellent marks all around and the incremental steps necessary before taking the aircraft up to the edge of space. After that happens, they’ll be ready for commercial service. Right now, a ticket aboard the SpaceShipTwo runs $250,000, and reportedly 600 people have already put down a deposit to make a flight.
The video below shows us the test flight from last week, which was reportedly a resounding success in every way. Perhaps we’ve taken one step closer to commercial passenger spaceflights becoming a realy possibility.
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