Virgin Galactic spaceline launches third successful test flight to reach record heights

The firm hopes to take first ever tourists to space later this year. Onboard cameras were able to capture its rocket-powered engine, the first time it has been used

Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's commercial spaceline, has successfully completed a third rocket-powered supersonic test flight with its SpaceShipTwo craft, soaring to 71,000 feet for the first time.

The reusable spaceship is set to be the first ever to take tourists into space later this year - at a cost of $250,000 a ticket. Celebrities including Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, as well as Mr Branson himself, have already reserved their seats.

To achieve the heights, the SpaceShipTwo was airlifted by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft to an altitude around 46,000 feet, before ignited its rocket motor upon release, powering the spaceship to the planned 71,000 ft altitude.

The flight, which departed from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the Californian desert on Friday morning piloted by Virgin Galactic's chief pilot Dave Mackay, was the first time rocket power had been used by the firm. 

The spaceship's Reaction Control System and its unique feather re-entry system, as well as a newly installed thermal protection coating, were also tested for the first time.

It does however still have a long way to go before space is reached by the craft - the Kármán line, which commonly represents the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space, is at 328,084 feet.

Mr Branson said: "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.

"Today, we had our own Chief Pilot flying another flawless supersonic flight and proving the various systems required to take us safely to space, as well as providing the very best experience while we’re up there."

"I have watched SS2 evolve over the years into an incredible vehicle that is going to open up space to more people than ever before," added Mr Mackay.

"To be behind the controls and fly it as the rocket ignited is something I will never forget. She flew brilliantly. All the tests went really well and generated vital data that will be used to further fine-tune our operations."

Read more:

Virgin joins 70-mile-high club with launch of spaceship

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Project Manager - Vehicle Design and Build

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Engineering Project Manager ...

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading manufacturer and i...

Recruitment Genius: Document Controller

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Document Controller is required to join a le...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action