Virgin Galactic Goes Supersonic In First Rocket Test

If you like space and have an extra $200,000 dollars laying around, well your day just got a little more exciting. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo just completed its first rocket-powered test today. Billionaire Richard Branson has contributed significant resources to see the realization of passenger space flight. The test was conducted the morning of April 29 in the Mojave Desert in California.  

The mothership of SS2 is WhiteKnightTwo, it helped to carry the rocket-ship to a height of 47,000 feet. The SS2 was then released midair where it fired off its hybrid motor. The aircraft reached an altitude of 56,000 feet before going supersonic and obtaining Mach 1.2. The fuel burn test lasted for all of 16 seconds. The test went exactly as planned and is a huge success for privately funded space ventures. The president and CEO of Virgin Galactic George Whitesides said, “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.” Branson also Tweeted about the successful test flight.

Branson hopes to have the entire operation up and running sometime in 2013. This would be the first passenger oriented space travel available. The mothership would do the bulk of the work bringing the passengers to space and then the SS2 would disengage from the mothership and take the passengers to just outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. Branson reports that so far, they have received over 500 reservations

NASA congratulated the team on this truly momentous achievement.

I can’t imagine that there is not a slight tinge of envy here. The US officially ended its space shuttle program in 2011. Fifteen thousand people worked for NASA’s shuttle program and after that shuttle program ended, some 8,000 of those people were laid off. While we still obtain a presence at the International Space Station, American Astronauts rely on hitching rides from Russia. 

The absence of a government funded space shuttle program has paved the way for private companies like Branson’s, Boeing and Space X to explore commercial avenues for space travel. Virgin Galactic has based its operations in New Mexico where Branson built a 68,000-square foot facility which houses the commercial enterprise. 

Here's another picture of it, because it's just pretty cool: