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Virgin Galactic’s third supersonic flight reaches highest altitude yet

If you’re planning to pay out for a commercial space flight in the coming years, you’ll be pleased to know that Virgin Galactic’s test runs are continuing successfully. The company has announced that its SpaceShipTwo aircraft has completed its third rocket-powered test and reached a new high — 71,000 feet in the air, to be exact. The SpaceShipTwo also reached a maximum velocity of Mach 1.4 under the stewardship of pilot Dave Mackay and returned safely to Earth.

The aim of this third test flight was to monitor the thermal coating on the tail of SpaceShipTwo as well as the ship’s reaction control system, which enables the pilot to maneuver the craft out in space (and give you the best views from your seat). Virgin Galactic has always promised to have its first passenger flights running sometime in 2014, and the company is showing no signs of backing down from that deadline.

“I couldn’t be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights,” said Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson in a press release. “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.”

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides was equally enthusiastic about SpaceShipTwo’s progress: “Today’s flight was another resounding success.We focused on gathering more transonic and supersonic data, and our chief pilot, Dave, handled the vehicle beautifully. With each flight test, we are progressively closer to our target of starting commercial service in 2014.”

It was just over three years ago that the SpaceShipTwo made its first solo flight. Even if you have the $250,000 necessary to book one of the six seats on the SpaceShipTwo, you might still be waiting a while for your trip beyond the atmosphere: over 600 people have already signed up. Get your name down on the list through this booking page.