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Commercial spaceplane achieves success in fourth glide flight test


SpaceshipTwo during glide flight 04. A Virgin Galactic photo

MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA (BNS): Signaling a hectic year ahead, Virgin Galactic has conducted another successful glide flight test of its commercial spaceplane, SpaceShipTwo.

The spacecraft, piloted by Mark Stucky and copilot Clint Nichols, was test flown on January 13 with the company releasing images of the successful flight.

As part of the test objectives, the pilots vented some water just before coming in to land, which produced a visible contrail, the company said.

This was the fourth glide flight of SpaceShipTwo.

The spacecraft had achieved its first piloted glide flight at Mojave Air and Space Port in California on October 10, 2010 when it was released from its mothership, the WhiteKnightTwo, at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13.70 kilometers).

Prior to the test, SpaceShipTwo had successfully completed maiden captive carry flight test in the California desert in March 2010.

Dubbed as the world's first manned commercial spaceplane, SpaceShipTwo has been designed to ferry thousands of private astronauts into space. The vehicle could carry up to six passenger astronauts and up to two pilot astronauts into space on a sub-orbital flight.

Once in suborbital space, the plane’s passengers will be able to view the Earth from portholes next to their seats, or unbuckle their seat belts and float in zero gravity.

With the race to make space a viable tourist destination heating up, several companies have put forth efforts to offer their spacecraft to paying tourists.

Last week, Virginia-based company Space Adventures, which has inked deals with the Russian space agency and Energia, a state-owned company that designs the Soyuz spacecraft, had announced that it will offer commercial space flights by 2013.

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