UPHAM, NM (AP) – Virgin Galactic celebrated its spaceship’s second successful glide over Spaceport America in southern New Mexico on Thursday.
Unlike the initial glide test in early May, the pilots flew at higher speeds to help evaluate the ship’s systems and performance in preparation for the next test phase. That includes rocket flights.
“Our focus for this year remains unchanged to ensure that the vehicles and our operations are prepared for long-term, regular commercial space services,” said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides in a statement.
While the company is working on the final tests, officials have not yet announced a date for commercial flight launches. Officials said the last flight data should be analyzed. Other steps include making the final adjustments to the spaceship’s customer cabin and conducting detailed inspections.
In Thursday’s flight, the spaceship reached a gliding speed of Mach 0.85 after being released from the freighter VMS Eve at an elevation of 51,000 feet (15,545 meters). The pilots performed several tests and maneuvers before landing on the runway.
Virgin Galactic teams held a ‘wet’ dress rehearsal last weekend positioning the spaceship on the runway and loading it with fuel.
Virgin Galactic is the primary tenant of the taxpayer-funded Spaceport America – the world’s first facility designed and built specifically for launching commercial passengers and loads in sub-orbital spaces. The company now has nearly 180 people who work outside the desert.
More than 600 customers from all over the world have bought tickets to be launched in the lower edges of space, where they can experience weightlessness and get a view of the Earth below. The sub-orbital flights are designed to reach a height of at least 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) before gliding to a landing.
In addition to a few hundred people who have made deposits for a ride on Virgin Galactic, more than 9,100 have registered their interest online. Corporate officials expect interest to exceed the company’s capacity for flights for a few years.