The first space race started 60 years ago with the Sputnik satellite launch. And the business of entering space is no longer exclusive to the likes of NASA and Russia, with a raft of private companies including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin revolutionising the rocket building industry. And another private space agency, Virgin Galactic, is also rewriting the rule books, after its SpaceShipTwo supersonic space plane notched-up another landmark test flight.
Richard Branson’s revolutionary aerospace company Virgin Galactic has touched the edge of space for the second time.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo successfully reached sub-orbital altitude today for its fifth supersonic test flight, following weather-related delays.
SpaceShipTwo recorded an altitude of 55 miles above Earth’s surface.
This is the beyond altitude recognised by NASA as the edge of space, and where astronauts receive their wings.
The WhiteKnightTwo ‘mothership’ took off in the Mojave Desert around 4.00pm GMT (8.00am PT / 11am ET) Friday yesterday carrying SpaceShipTwo.
The supersonic space plane then separated to soar into the cloudless sky, accelerating to surpass Mach 3, three times the speed of sound.
At the boundary of space, the three SpaceShipTwo crew-members experienced the weightlessness of micro-gravity.
For, in addition to the two pilots, the flight also included a passenger for the first time.
Virgin Galactic later confirmed the supersonic space plane reached heights of 55.85 miles (90 km).
The latest SpaceShipTwo mission was controlled by a pair of experienced pilots, Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and Pilot Mike “Sooch” Masucci.
The making up the trio was micro-gravity expert Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, who “provided human validation for the data” collected during the flight.
The supersonic plane also carried NASA payloads in order to put the craft at approximate commercial weight, Virgin Galactic said.
Virgin remained characteristically guarded about exactly when the plane was scheduled to take off following Wednesday’s scrubbed flight.
It was only mere minutes before the rescheduled test that the firm finally revealed when the plane would be lifting off.
“We are planning an 8.00am PST take-off this morning,” Virgin announced on social media.
“We are expanding the weight distribution in the spaceship during this next test flight to test the vehicle’s handling qualities.
“This will provide us with valuable flight data.”
The two aircraft, with SpaceShipTwo mated to the underbelly of WhiteKnightTwo, climbed to tens of thousands of feet within a matter of minutes.
And SpaceShipTwo was eventually released at an altitude of around 45,000ft to continue the journey alone.
With its rocket motor ignited, SpaceShipTwo successfully achieved its Mach 3 target.
Virgin Galactic first reached the edge of space in December 2018 in a landmark achievement for Richard Branson’s space tourism endeavours.