(Reuters) – A six-passenger spaceship owned by an offshoot of Virgin Group fired its rocket engine in flight for the first time on Monday, a key step toward the start of commercial service in about a year, Virgin owner Richard Branson said.
The powered test flight over California’s Mojave Desert lasted 16 seconds and broke the sound barrier.”It was stunning,” Branson told Reuters. “You could see it very, very clearly. Putting the rocket and the spaceship together and seeing it perform safely, it was a critical day.”The spaceship and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port at 7 a.m. PDT (10.00 a.m. EDT), heading to an altitude of about 46,000 feet, where SpaceShipTwo was released.Two pilots then ignited the ship’s rocket engine and climbed another 10,000 feet, reaching Mach 1.2 in the process. Additional test flights are planned before the spaceship will fly even faster, eventually reaching altitudes that exceed 62 miles