Billionaire Richard Branson's planned commercial spacecraft had a successful test flight Thursday, rocketing into the skies over California after being dropped from its carrier plane, his company announced.
Branson's Virgin Galactic said SpaceShipTwo broke the sound barrier, climbed from 42,000 feet to 69,000 feet over the Mojave Desert under rocket power and descended using its tilt-wing "feathering" maneuver. It's the second powered flight for SpaceShipTwo, which is designed to carry up to six passengers on what will be suborbital flights at first.
"In addition to achieving the highest altitude and greatest speed to date, the test flight demonstrated the vehicle's full technical mission profile in a single flight for the first time ... All of the test objectives were successfully completed," the company said.
In a video showing highlights of Thursday's test flight, Branson said Virgin Galactic plans to start taking passengers aloft in 2014 -- a slight delay from the December 2013 marker he set down at Britain's Farnborough International Airshow in June.
"Virgin Galactic is now gearing up for the commercial service, finalizing cabin interiors, flight suits, training programs and the multiple other details required to offer hundreds of aspiring astronauts a safe and awe-inspiring journey," he said.
More than 500 would-be astronauts, including actor Ashton Kutcher, have so far signed up for the two-hour, $200,000-a-seat flights. Virgin executives have said they expect to have 600 bookings in the first two years of service.