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Virgin Galactic test flight brings commercial space travel in 2014 closer

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Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, the passenger-carrying reusable space vehicle of Virgin Group, has completed its third successful supersonic flight on Jan. 10, according to a press release.

For the first time, SS2 was piloted under rocket power by Virgin Galactic’s Dave Mackay. Along with Scaled Composites’’ test pilot Mark Stucky, Mackay tested out the vehicle’s Reaction Control System was well as the new thermal coating applied to the tail booms.

The press release indicates all results were positive.

The vehicle departed from the Mojave Air and Space Port at 7:22 a.m. PST with WhiteKightTwo, an aircraft carrier, taking SS2 to an altitude of 46,000 feet. Once released, SS2’s engines ignited and the spaceship lifted to SS2’s highest altitude to date—71,000 feet.

On the success of the flight, Virgin Group’s Richard branson commented, “I couldn’t be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights. 2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space.”

The areas that were up for testing today—the thermal coating, the Reaction Control System as well as the feather re-entry system— all had to be tested in preparation for the eventual full space flights. In terms of a commercial flight experience, the RCS will allow pilots to move the vehicle to allow for the best viewing experience for passengers. It also aids in position the vehicle for ideal re-entry.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides noted that each test flight brings ever closer the target of beginning a commercial service with SS2. The goal is to begin sometime in 2014.

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