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Commercial spaceplane logs longest test flight


Mothership WhiteKnightTwo flying with SpaceshipTwo in this file photo.

MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA (BNS): Private space firm Virgin Galactic-built commercial spacecraft SpaceShipTwo has achieved another milestone by logging its longest ever test flight last week.

The spaceship underwent the drop test over California’s Mojave Desert on Friday, during which it was released from its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, at a high altitude, Space.com reported.

Friday’s piloted glide flight was the fifth such flight for SpaceShipTwo and the longest ever for the spacecraft, a company official was quoted as saying by the website.

The spaceship hovered in the sky for 14 minutes and 31 seconds, Christine Choi, a spokeswoman for Virgin Galactic, was quoted as saying in the report.

Virgin Galactic had successfully conducted the first piloted glide flight for SpaceShipTwo on October 10, 2010 when the spacecraft was released from its mothership WhiteKnightTwo at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13.70 kilometers).

The subsequent glide flight tests for the commercial spaceplane were conducted in October and November 2010, and January this year.

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.

According to designers, the spaceship will take passengers to an altitude of 110 km after being dropped from its carrier at an altitude of about 50,000 feet (16 km).

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.

The 2.5-hour flight will feature a five-minute period of weightlessness, when passengers will be able to release themselves from their seats and float around the cabin.

Virgin Galactic plans to start flying customers aboard the craft on a regular basis after completion of up to 100 test flights of the commercial spaceplane.

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