Singularity Hub 
May 2, 2013
In October 2004, Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites  claimed the $10 million Ansari X Prize when their spacecraft SpaceShipOne achieved suborbital flight—the first private organization to do so. Now, the commercial version of SpaceShipOne, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, achieved supersonic speeds after its pilots successfully fired their rockets for the first time at 47,000 feet. Next step? Duplicate SpaceShipOne’s suborbital flights by the end of 2013.
SpaceShipTwo relies on its “mothership,” dubbed WhiteKnightTwo, to carry it to altitude, removing the need for the heavy rockets required for Earth-based launches (think SpaceX). SpaceShipTwo then detaches from WhiteKnightTwo and fires its rockets, propelling the spacecraft forward and up. Pilot Mark Stucky and co-pilot Mark Alsbury were behind the stick for the 16-second burn from 47,000 feet to 55,000 feet and the subsequent 10-minute glide into a safe landing in the Mojave desert.
Virgin Galactic founder, Sir Richard Branson, said of the flight, “Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end.”