Virgin Galactic tourism rocket ship reaches edge of space in test flight

According to the company's Twitter, SpaceShipTwo reached an altitude of 82.68 kilometers (51.4 miles), just high enough to pass the definition the United States military and NASAhave set for the edge of space (and high enough for both pilots to get FAA commercial astronaut wings).

The carrier airplane hauled the SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket plane to an altitude of about 45,000 feet (13.7 kms) and released it. Seconds later, SpaceShipTwo fired, catapulting it to more than 51 miles (82 km) above Earth, high enough for the pilots, Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow, to experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet.

SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, took off in the early morning sunshine at the Mojave test centre in California on Thursday in front of hundreds of employees and their family members.

The two pilots aboard VSS Unity on Thursday will be awarded commercial astronaut wings from the The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees commercial space travel. The company used the occasion to test the aircraft's various in-flight capabilities, flying it higher than all previous missions and burning the rocket motor for a longer period of time.

The rocket plane re-entered the atmosphere at 2.5 times the speed of sound and landed a few minutes later.

Virgin Galactic says its spacecraft created to launch tourists into space completed an important test flight on Thursday.

On this particular test flight, the company is also carrying along four unnamed payloads through NASA's Flight Opportunities program.

Based on the success of today's flight, Virgin Galactic has stated that it will move forward with full-duration, or 60-second, motor burns.

Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Two takes off for a suborbital test flight from Mojave California
Camera Icon Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Two takes off for a suborbital test flight from Mojave

"We made it to space!"

The VSS Unity is a SpaceShipTwo air-launched rocket plane that has been designed specifically for commercial use.

Virgin Galactic reaches space for the first time during its 4th powered flight from Mojave, Calif. They too are hoping to take their first commercial passengers in 2019. It returned safely to Earth after the flight. We started Virgin almost 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge, Branson said via a company-issued release.

Branson has said he wants to be one of the first on board. In October 2014, its spacecraft crashed during a test flight over the Mojave Desert, killing one of the pilots aboard and severely injuring the other.

That's different than a long-held view that the boundary is at 100 kilometres. but CEO George Whitesides noted that recent research favours the lower altitude.

Unlike other rockets launched by NASA, Virgin's spacecraft does not make a vertical launch from a pad on the ground.

More than 600 people from around the world have already paid for tickets, according to the statement.

The company is squared up to compete directly with Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos in 2000 to offer suborbital tourism flights.

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  • Douglas Reid