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Virgin Galactic nears commercial spaceflight with second rocket-powered test run

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Virgin Galactic is nearing in on commercial spaceflight with the completion of its latest test of SpaceShipTwo. The reusable ship, which will eventually be used to ferry around passengers, took its second rocket-powered flight this morning over Mojave, California. Virgin founder Richard Branson says that the craft flew higher and faster than it ever has before — up to 69,000 feet in the air. This run was also apparently a crucial measure of the shuttle's unique "feathering" reentry system, which it tested today for the first time.

Branson describes SpaceShipTwo's feathering system as effectively turning the vehicle into a giant shuttlecock: it raises the craft's wings and tail into a vertical position, creating drag that slows its descent. "We are absolutely delighted today to have another major milestone under our belts," says Branson. This test keeps the shuttle on course for a 2014 commercial launch — a slight delay from Virgin's previous estimates of this year, but a looming date nonetheless.