SpaceShipTwo Hits Mach 1.4

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SpaceShipTwo went higher and faster than it has been before on Friday and Virgin Group President Sir Richard Branson is predicting it will reach space sometime in 2014. Branson had hoped the reusable passenger-carrying rocket would have slipped out of the atmosphere by the end of 2013 but Friday's flight showed progress toward the ultimate goal. The spacecraft hit Mach 1.4 and 71,000 feet (from a starting altitude of 46,000) in flight, which was captured from multiple angles by video cameras on the mothership Eve and the spacecraft itself.

Friday's mission was to test the reaction control system (RCS) and thermal protection coating on the tail feathers. The RCS will be used by pilots to maneuver the spacecraft in space so the $200,000-a-seat passengers get the best possible view. The shiny coating on the tail was added to keep skin temperatures in the green when the rocket is firing and it apparently worked, according the Galactic news release. The pilots also articulated the craft's feathering tail, which will be used to moderate the initial descent of the machine from space. "With each flight test, we are progressively closer to our target of starting commercial service in 2014, said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides.