Today, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two ascended to the upper atmosphere for its third supersonic flight, and the highest to date. The ship reached an altitude of 71,000 feet, 2000 feet higher than the previous record, before returning safely to the ground under the guidance of chief pilot Dave Mackay. The mission was designed to test the thermal coating on the craft's tail as well as the ship's reaction control system, which will allow pilots to maneuver the craft once in space.
Previously, Virgin Galactic had promised to run their first commercial space voyages in 2014 and, with less than a year to make good on the promise, the company seemed confident it would meet the self-imposed deadline. "With each flight test, we are progressively closer to our target of starting commercial service in 2014," said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. After the launch, founder Richard Branson also doubled down on the promise, saying, "2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space."