Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has completed the first rocket-powered test of its SpaceShipTwo (SS2) aircraft, the main vehicle the company hopes to use to launch commercial space flights later this year. The test began this morning at 7:02 AM from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, CA — Virgin's WhiteKnightTwo took off with the SS2 in tow. After a 45-minute ascent to 47,000 feet, the SS2 ignited its rocket motor for a 16-second burn that propelled the craft to supersonic speeds and an altitude of 55,000 feet. The complete flight lasted about 10 minutes and the craft landed back in Mojave without incident.
According to Virgin Galactic, the successful test "officially marks" the beginning of the final phase of vehicle testing before the company's planned launch of its commercial space travel service. "For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight," said Branson. "Today's supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship's powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year's end." It's been quite the long road for Branson's vision, but the team is planning a number of other test flights to continue expanding the ship's range in preparation for full spaceflight.