Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane lit its engine for the first time in flight Monday, powering through the speed of sound and moving a step closer to spaceflight for the masses.
The spaceship fired its hybrid rocket engine for about 16 seconds after dropping from the belly of its WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane, long enough to accelerate past the sound barrier and release a stream of exhaust visible from the ground, delighting throngs of spectators near the test site in Mojave, Calif.
Triggered by pilots at the controls of SpaceShipTwo, the rocket firing occurred at about 7:50 a.m. local time (10:50 a.m. EDT; 1450 GMT), about 45 minutes after the mothership and SpaceShipTwo took off from Mojave Air and Space Port.
SpaceShipTwo reached a top speed of Mach 1.2 and a peak altitude of 55,000 feet, according to Virgin Galactic.
And the hybrid solid/liquid rocket motor is a pretty innovative technique to reduce complexity.