Virgin Galactic Makes Giant Leap In New Rocket Test (UPDATE: NEW VIDEO)

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UPDATE: Virgin Galactic has now unveiled video of the launch. See above:

Richard Branson's quest to put paying tourists into space took another leap forward with its third and highest supersonic test flight over the weekend.

The Virgin Galactic craft Space Ship Two was able to reach 71,000 feet (a new record for the craft) at a speed of mach 1.4, after being dropped by the White Knight Two 'mothership' at around 46,000 feet.

The smaller SS2 fired its rocket motor and launched Virgin Galactic chief pilot David Mackay and test pilot Mark Stucky to the new record height, testing new instruments before gliding back down to Earth with its unique 'feather' re-entry system.

Virgin Galactic said that the crucial RCS and thermal protection coatings were tested - both systems that will allow pilots to change the position of the vehicle in space, "permitting an optimal viewing experience for those on board and aiding the positioning process for spacecraft re-entry".

Sir Richard Branson said: "I couldn’t be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights. 2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space. Today, we had our own Chief Pilot flying another flawless supersonic flight and proving the various systems required to take us safely to space, as well as providing the very best experience while we’re up there."

Take a look at the launch and pictures of the craft below.

Also on The Huffington Post

Virgin Galactic: Progress In Pictures
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