KUSA - There's been another successful test for Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, as Richard Branson's dream of space tourism edges closer to reality.
SpaceShipTwo soared high over California after being dropped from a carrier plane. It broke the sound barrier, climbing to 69,000 feet over the Mojave Desert.
This was the second powered flight for SpaceShipTwo, which is designed to carry up to six passengers on suborbital flights, starting next year.
SpaceShipTwo also tested a "feathering" system that it has on board to assist with controlled re-entry. It allows the entire tail of the spaceship to rotate up to about 65 degrees, which Virgin says allows fine control of the attitude as the spacecraft comes back to Earth.
"The feather configuration is also highly stable, effectively giving the pilot a hands-free re-entry capability, something that has not been possible on spacecraft before," Virgin said of the system on its website.
"The main progress with this test is that we deployed the full expansion (up and down) of the feather mechanism at a high altitude, alongside testing the rocket motor performance," wrote Virgin founder Richard Branson on his blog. "This feather mechanism was the key innovation that enabled us to get into the space program in the first place. It acts like a giant shuttlecock and slows the spaceship up as it comes back into the earth's atmosphere."
Branson also described Thursday's test - the second powered flight for SpaceShipTwo, which did its first in April - as "the highest commercial winged vehicle [flight] in history."
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