SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s supersonic spacecraft built for suborbital tourism, made its second rocket-powered spaceflight last week.
After a successful sound-barrier-smashing test flight, Virgin Galactic has released footage from a camera on its prize spaceship’s tail. The view, though not as extraordinary as the one that future ticketed passengers can expect to see as they float at the craft’s windows, is a white-knuckle-inducing one of a plume of fire and a distant desert below.
SpaceShipTwo, or SS2, Virgin Galactic’s supersonic spacecraft built for suborbital tourism, made its second rocket powered test flight and 29th free flight last week. The flight began at about 8 a.m. on Thursday, when the company’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft lifted off from the Mojave Air and Space Port, in the Southwestern US’s Mojave Desert, with SS2 in tow.
At an altitude of 46,000 feet, SS2 was released, like prey spared from an eagle’s claws, and pilots Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols ignited the rocket. For 20 seconds, the orange-black plume propelled the spaceship to 69,000 feet and to a maximum speed of Mach 1.43 – or supersonic speed, faster than the speed of sound. In the video, overlaid with audio from the craft’s cockpit, the two pilots’ voices strain in counting down the seconds of powered flight.
The mission then wrapped up with a test of the SS2’s feather system, a slowing mechanism designed to smoothly bring the craft back to Earth and a first for a rocket-powered flight. The total flight time was about 1 hour and 25 minutes.