SpaceShipTwo Makes Fastest Flight to Date

Unique spacecraft showcases "feathering" re-entry ability in latest flight.

In its second rocket-powered flight to date, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo flexed its muscle, going both faster and farther than it has ever before.

After being carried to 46,000 feet by WhiteKnightTwo, SpaceShipTwo lit its rocket motor, which shot the spaceship to an altitude of 69,000 feet. The spaceship reached a speed of Mach 1.43 during the flight over the Mojave Desert yesterday.

The aircraft also deployed its "feathering" re-entry configuration, in which the tail section of SpaceShipTwo rotates upward and the vehicle descends at a level pitch with minimal forward movement.

"It was particularly thrilling to see for the first time the whole elegant system in action during a single flight, including the remarkable feathering re-entry system. It was this safety feature more than anything else that originally persuaded us that the overall design of the system was uniquely fit for purpose," said Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic hopes SpaceShipTwo will serve as the first commercial means of space travel once the test program is complete, although the company is remaining mum on a target date for that milestone. Passengers looking to ride on the spaceship can purchase tickets for $250,000 apiece, up from the previous price of $200,000. More than 600 slots have already been reserved, according to Virgin Galactic.

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