Science

BOOM: Virgin Galactic breaks the sound barrier

Image Credit: http://www.virgingalactic.com/news/item/virgin-galactic-breaks-speed-of-sound-in-first-rocket-powered-flight-of-spaceshiptwo/

If you were in the Mojave Desert today and heard something loud, it could have been the inaugural test flight of Virgin Galactic’s full spaceship today. The rocket blew past the sound barrier in the first flight-test of its rocket engine today, paving yet another road (if the road was made out of air) to commercial space travel.

Girls, pack your bags, we’re going to space!

The company announced the successful test flight today, saying this was the first time the rocket engine and the spacecraft had ever flown together. Both have been tested separately for a number of years. Sir Richard Branson, who owns Virgin Group (which Virgin Galactic is a part of) said in a statement that this was, “without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date.” Branson was in Mojave to see Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo fly.

He went on to say that this gets the company a step closer the goal of commercial space travel “by the year’s end.”

Before reaching an altitude of 47,000 feet, the spacecraft was attached to what Virgin Galactic calls the “WhiteKnightTwo” or WK2, an airplane specially designed to carry SS2. Once SpaceShipTwo let go of WhiteKnight, the rocket motor was ignited and off it went, reaching an altitude of 55,000. During the flight, it hit Mach 1.2 — otherwise known as going really freaking fast.

The SS2 landed safely after 10 minutes of solo airtime.

Photo by MarsScientific.com and Clay Center Observatory