Virgin Galactic releases footage from supersonic flight
SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s supersonic spacecraft built for suborbital tourism, made its second rocket-powered spaceflight last week.
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To reach that Kármán line, SS2 will have to reproduce the success of the company’s previous craft, SpaceShipOne. That ship reached 367,442 feet (69.6 miles) in 2004, booming into space and winning its maker the $10 million Ansari X Prize. But SS1 was not commercially viable, with room for just two passengers and one pilot, the company had said. The new, roomier craft seats six and has space for two pilots, as well as two large windows per passenger (“No more squabbling over who has the best seat!” the company says on its website.)Skip to next paragraph
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This was the second test flight for SS2, putting the craft at its highest altitude and fastest speed yet. In April, the ship had delighted potential space tourists when it made its first rocket-powered flight, smashing the sound barrier at 1.2 Mach and at 55,000 feet, in a spectacular demonstration of what an business magnate's money could buy.
After landing, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson toasted what Mr. Branson called “the sexiest ship ever” by cracking champagne bottles on the craft’s nose. Virgin Galactic also celebrated with a price uptick, raising the cost of seat on the craft from $200,000 to $250,000.
So far, Justin Bieber, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher, and Tom Hanks have all booked rides in the craft. And they are not alone: The company reports that it has accepted $70 million in deposits from approximately 580 people for its spaceflights since it began selling spots in 2005.
A ticket purchases membership in “perhaps the world's most exclusive club with privileged access to all aspects of the project as it progresses,” the company says. Besides that, ticket-holders can expect, after a physical and three days of training, “an out-of-the-seat, zero-gravity experience with astounding views of the planet from the black sky of space.”
Plus, “later that evening, sitting with your astronaut wings, you know that life will never quite be the same again,” the company says.
Flights are to depart from New Mexico’s Spaceport America, a sleek, 24-acre complex under construction at a cost of $209 million to the state. SpaceX, the spaceflight start-up, began using the port this spring to test the Grasshopper, a reusable rocket.
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