The test flight was considered a milestone in Virgin Galactic’s effort to be the world’s first commercial space liner, which would make several trips a day carrying scores of paying customers into space from Spaceport America in southern New Mexic.
SpaceShipTwo was flown to about 46,000 feet by a carrier aircraft, and nearly one hour into the flight, it was dropped and began its flight under its own rocket power.
Pilot Mark Stucky and co-pilot Clint Nichols engaged the hybrid rocket motor — powered by nitrous oxide and a rubber compound — for 20 seconds.
SpaceShipTwo blasted to Mach 1.43, reaching about 56,000 feet in altitude.
The rocket plane flew solo for nearly 30 minutes, making a smooth landing in Mojave.
Another key milestone achieved during the test was that the aircraft deployed its twin tail sections to a “feathered” position, which is designed to slow the aircraft’s descent and allow it to return softly to Earth.
The one-of-a-kind design is vital to reducing wear and tear on the six-person rocket ship, so it can eventually make several commercial trips each day into outer space.
Virgin Galactic said it has accepted more than $80 million in deposits from about 630 reservations made by people who are interested in the ride.