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Virgin Galactic makes first feathered flight over Mojave [Video]

May 19, 2011 | 10:59 am


Two weeks ago, British billionaire Richard Branson’s commercial space venture Virgin Galactic said it had gotten one step closer to sending tourists into outer space.

Now you can see it for yourself in the video above.

Virgin Galactic recently posted a video on YouTube of its rocket plane, dubbed SpaceShipTwo, as it makes a test flight over the Mojave Desert. Watch as SpaceShipTwo’s twin tail sections were moved to a “feathered” position, which is designed to allow the space ship to softly return to the Earth’s atmosphere from the vacuum of space.

At 1:55 SpaceShipTwo is dropped like a bomb from 51,500 feet by a carrier aircraft and around 2:30 the aircraft rotates its tail section upward at a 65-degree angle to the center fuselage, creating aerodynamic drag.

It’s an unusual and interesting sight to see the aircraft as it flutters to the Earth, but the design is vital to Virgin Galactic’s plans to routinely carry scores of paying customers into outer space multiple times a day.

The innovative design came from legendary aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, who recently retired from his Mojave company Scaled Composites.

"We went up to altitude, dropped it, and folded it in half," Matt Stinemetze, program manager at Scaled Composites, said in the clip."The airplane ... did what it was supposed to. So now we have a reentry vehicle. Now we can come back from space."

Virgin Galactic, founded by Branson, hopes to make its first passenger flight sometime next year from the yet-to-be finished Spaceport America in New Mexico. The company said it has taken about 430 reservations for the $200,000 ride.


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-- W.J. Hennigan