Virgin Galactic took a big step in its quest for space travel today with a successful test flight of the commercial spaceliner SpaceShipTwo, which broke the sound barrier Monday morning above the Mojave Desert in California.
After being released from its carrier craft at 48,000 feet, the rocket-powered SpaceShipTwo began a 16-second burn and rose to 56,000 feet while breaking the sound barrier.
All in all, the rocket-powered flight lasted 10 minutes and was a success.
“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said in a statement. “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. 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.”
SpaceShipTwo was built by Scaled Composites LLC, an aerospace research company founded by Burt Rutan. SpaceShipTwo is a prototype commercial version of SpaceShipOne, which was funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and became the first privately-funded man rocket to fly beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004.