Virgin Galactic took another step on the road to commercial space travel after one of its spacecrafts aced a flying exam.
The company's SpaceShipTwo vessel completed its third test flight Friday over California's Mojave desert. The craft was ferried up to 46,000 feet by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, in order to test SpaceShipTwo's rocket engines. (Via NBC)
Once released, SpaceShipTwo's engines blasted the ship to an altitude of 71,000 feet, its highest climb yet. The ship also reached a speed of Mach 1.4, which is faster than the speed of sound, and conducted several other system tests before landing safely. (Via The Telegraph)
The owner of Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson, said Friday's launch paves the way for SpaceShipTwo to finally begin ferrying customers into space.
"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."
Virgin Galactic isn't the only company eyeing the stars in 2014. Aerospace firm XCOR has also announced it plans to put its Lynx spacecraft in the air by summer 2014.
And Elon Musk's SpaceX company made headlines in September when its Falcon 9 rocket launched a communications satellite into orbit. The rocket repeated the feat just last week.
One analyst told Space.com 2014 should be a breakout year for commercial space travel, if everything goes according to plan.
"If these companies achieve those long-awaited, and sometimes long-delayed, major milestones, it will go far to erase any lingering doubts that suborbital space tourism is a real market."
But even if Virgin Galactic does reach the stars in 2014, you might still have to wait awhile to catch a spaceflight. Tickets are currently $250,000 each, and more than 700 people have already reserved their spots in line to go to space.