Last year, Sir Richard Branson promised Virgin Galactic's first commercial mission would rip through the atmosphere in 2014. That goal has edged ever closer with SpaceShipTwo's latest trip beyond the sound barrier, where it shot past previous records and hit an altitude of 71,000 feet. This recent dry-run was the maiden voyage for a set of newly designed thrusters (used to keep the vessel on-course in space), and a new coating for the tail section that reflects heat from the rocket engine. As the company tells it, the purpose of this flight was to gather more transonic and supersonic data -- it isn't certain how many more test flights are needed, though. Given that Branson and his kids will be Galactic's first passengers, however, we've a hunch he'll keep tinkering 'til everything's just right.

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Virgin Galactic tests new thrusters, further disregards gravity (video)