Virgin Galactic Flight: Watch SpaceShipTwo Break Sound Barrier 56,000 Feet Above Calif. Desert [VIDEO]
It pays to be rich and adventurous. On Thursday, Virgin Galactic, billionaire venture capitalist Richard Branson's commercial spaceflight program, successfully tested its SpaceShipTwo rocket, or SS2, for the second time. Its first successful test flight was in April.
The latest supersonic test flight reached Mach 1.43, or about 1,089 mph, and was propelled 56,000 feet above Earth's surface. The Los Angeles Times reports that the rocket flew solo for about 30 minutes before descending and landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, Calif.
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"This is a giant step," Branson wrote in a blog post. "Our spaceship is now the highest commercial winged vehicle in history!"
This second successful test flight of the SS2 means Virgin Galactic is one step closer to taking passengers - ordinary, everyday billionaires and millionaires, that is - into suborbital space. There, these amateur astronauts will experience weightlessness and see the Earth from an angle few people have seen it before - all for the ticket price of $250,000 (is there a Groupon deal?).
Video footage shot from the rocket itself shows all the Mach-speed action. In the video, the WhiteNightTwo, the carrier craft designed to take the SS2 to an altitude of 46,000 before sending it on its way, can be seen releasing the SS2 aircraft.
Once released, the SS2 free falls towards Earth for a few seconds before its pilots hit the gas pedal, sending the rocket boosting forward towards the wide-open sky.
When Virgin Galactic makes its first consumer flights, hopefully by the end of the year, passengers will be taken into space and reach speeds of 2,500 mph and an altitude of about 360,000 feet. That's high enough to where gravity will have little effect on them, and the passengers will experience about 5 minutes of weightlessness. That's enough time to grab those obligatory Instagram shots.
The SS2 can carry six passengers at a time, and is expected to make multiple trips a day once Virgin Galactic's operations are up and running. According to Journal Star, Virgin Galactic already has about $80 million worth of deposits from 630 reservations, many of them made by celebrities like Justin Bieber, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher.
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