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Virgin Galactic nearing powered SpaceShipTwo test flights

The chief executive of Virgin Galactic said Sept. 7 that the company’s second suborbital space plane was “at the edge” of beginning powered test flights, after at least one more glide flight.

George Whitesides, speaking at the 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention in Irvine, California, said that while the company was gearing up for the next phase of flight testing of SpaceShipTwo, it would not give a timetable for beginning commercial flights.

“Galactic is still trucking away and we are getting close to powered flight,” he said. “We’re now right at the edge of powered flight.”

The company has been performing a series of glide flights of its second SpaceShipTwo, named VSS Unity, that started in December 2016. During those flights, SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by, and then released from, its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, gliding to a runway landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

Company founder Sir Richard Branson also declined to give a schedule in an April interview, despite suggesting in other recent interviews that he would be “very disappointed” if SpaceShipTwo is not in commercial service by the end of 2018. “I’ve made the mistake of giving dates before and being wrong,” he said.

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