Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo completes second powered flight
Billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two made a second successful powered test flight on Thursday. The Spaceship Two will most likely become the world's first truly commercial spaceship.
Following its first powered flight in April, the spaceship went supersonic again. It also tested the wing-tilting re-entry system for the first time, according to its Twitter updates.
The company said the flight test "hit our planned duration, altitude and speed." The hybrid rocket engine was fired for 20 seconds, sending SpaceShipTwo to a maximum velocity 1.43 times the speed of sound and a maximum altitude of 69,000 feet, Virgin Galactic reported. That compares with 16 seconds, a top speed of Mach 1.2 and a maximum altitude of 56,200 feet for April's flight.
Virgin Galactic modeled the test flight after its plans for future passenger trips to space. If all goes according to plan, Spaceship Two could start commercial passenger flights into outer space in 2014.
"We couldn't be more delighted to have another major supersonic milestone under our belts as we move toward a 2014 start of commercial service," Branson, Virgin Galactic's founder, said in a statement issued after the landing. "It was particularly thrilling to see for the first time today 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. Everything we have seen today just confirms that view."
Branson plans to be on the first flight with his family. More than 600 customers have already signed up, paying deposits on the $250,000 fares.
NBC News contributed to this report.