The first powered flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo propelled the passenger spacecraft faster than the speed of sound in a milestone test flight over the high desert of southern California Monday morning. “The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson, who was in Mojave for the flight. “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight.” The autonomous flight of the spacecraft lasted about 10 minutes and ended with the vehicle gliding to a landing at Mojave.
The spacecraft was lifted to 47,000 feet by WhiteKnightTwo before being dropped from the mother ship. Scaled Composites test pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury then fired the rocket engine for 16 seconds and the spacecraft streaked to 55,000 feet, reaching Mach 1.2. Flying WhiteKnightTwo was Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, and Scaled Composites’ copilot Clint Nichols and flight engineer Brian Maisler. “The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout,” said Virgin Galactic President & CEO George Whitesides. “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.”