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Virgin Galactic edges closer to space in third rocket test flight (+video)

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(Read caption) Virgin Galactic spaceship makes third powered test flight
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Virgin Galactic’s would-be commercial spaceship has made its third rocket-powered, supersonic test flight, surpassing its previous height milestones and edging closer to its ambitions of boosting extremely well-paying customers into space.

SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s supersonic spaceship, reached about 71,000 feet in its latest test flight on Friday, about 2,000 feet higher than its previous test flight in September.

It was the first time that Virgin Galactic pilot Dave Mackay commanded the plane in a rocket-powered flight, joining a test pilot from Scaled Composites, the company that develops Virgin Galactic’s spaceships. Scaled Composites test pilots had flown SpaceShipTwo’s previous rocket test flights.

SpaceShipTwo lifted off from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port under a WhiteKightTwo carrier jet at 7:22 a.m. local time. At around 46,000 feet, the spaceship was dropped from the carrier, ignited its engines, and burst to Mach 1.4. The rocket burn that carried the craft to 71,000 feet, near the middle of the Earth’s stratosphere, lasted just 20 seconds.

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