Virgin Galactic's SpaceshipTwo conducted its third rocket-powered test flight on Friday (January 10).

With Virgin Galactic chief pilot David Mackay and co-pilot Mark Stucky at the controls, SpaceshipTwo soared to an altitude 71,000 feet above the ground.

The pilots tested the spaceship's Reaction Control System (RCS) and the newly installed thermal protection coating on the vehicle's tail booms.

According to the company, all of the test objectives were successfully completed and the 20-second rocket burn over California's Mojave desert propelled the ship to 1.4 times faster than the speed of sound.

Virgin Galactic, a U.S. offshoot of billionaire Richard Branson's London-based Virgin Group, is selling rides on SpaceShipTwo for $250,000 (£152,000)

So far, more than 650 people have put down deposits or paid for rides, which is 20 percent more than the total number who have ever been in space.

Branson and his two children are expected to fly on the first passenger flight late this year.

The upcoming flights are designed to reach altitudes of more than 65 miles above Earth, high enough to see the curvature of the planet set against the blackness of space.

Riders also will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before the ship re-enters the atmosphere.

Presented by Adam Justice