Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo makes second powered flight

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Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo has completed its second rocket-powered flight.

The 5 September flight marks only the second in-flight ignition of the RocketMotorTwo rocket, and the second supersonic flight. During the 20s motor burn, SpaceShipTwo reached M1.43 speed and 69,000ft altitude, the fastest and highest yet.

"In addition to achieving the highest altitude and greatest speed to date, the test flight demonstrated the vehicle's full technical mission profile in a single flight for the first time, including a high altitude deployment of the unique wing "feathering" re-entry mechanism. All of the test objectives were successfully completed," says the company.

The spacecraft was lifted from its Mojave, California test grounds by WhiteKnightTwo, a unique and custom-built carrier aircraft.

RocketMotorTwo is fueled by hydroxyl-terminated polybutediene (HTPB) and nitrous oxide - essentially tire rubber and laughing gas. The HTPB is a solid fuel, installed anew for each burn, while the nitrous oxide is kept in a refillable tank.

The motor, built by Sierra Nevada, made its first full profile burns in 2009. A similar motor will be used on Sierra Nevada's own orbital vehicle, the Dream Chaser.

Virgin Galactic has sold around 600 tickets for its parabolic tourism flights into space, exceeding the total number of humans who have to date crossed into space. SpaceShipTwo is a suborbital vehicle, meaning it has enough power to cross into space but not enough to reach orbit.

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 Virgin Galactic