Tourism rocket ship reaches space on test flight

Virgin Galactic could soon reach space for the first time

Virgin Galactic First Flight to Space Imminent

Virgin's ultimate goal is to build a series of spaceports around the globe, "and we're operating multiple times a week at each one of those and enabling tens of thousands of people to experience space", George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic's chief executive, said in a recent interview.

Today, the aerospace company successfully launched four NASA-supported technologies and two courageous test pilots aboard the suborbital space plane into space and then landed safely back on Earth.

Richard Branson, business magnate and owner of Virgin Group, stated on Twitter that "Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship built to carry private, paying passengers reached space".

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has successfully launched a tourism rocket plane into space for the first time.

We started Virgin almost 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge, Branson said via a company-issued release.

The jet will climb to an altitude near 43,000 feet and then release Virgin Space Ship Unity.

The sub-orbital spaceplane, also known as SpaceShipTwo, reached an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7km) - just beyond the 50-mile (80km) boundary that Nasa and the US Air Force consider the gateway to space - travelling at 2.9 times the speed of sound. With two test pilots at the controls, the spacecraft quickly hurtled upward and out of sight from viewers on the ground.

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Flown by two pilots, Mark Stucky and Nasa astronaut Frederick Sturckow, the aircraft made its rapid ascent as the rocket motor burned for 60 seconds.

The test flight foreshadows a new era of civilian space travel that could kick off as soon as 2019, with British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic battling other billionaire-backed ventures, like Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, to be the first to offer suborbital flights to fare-paying tourists.

"People have literally put their lives on the line to get us here", Branson said. "I think we can authentically say that we're obviously hoping for a good day tomorrow but the risk of a not good day is still possible". During the test flight, it carried four NASA research payloads and a mannequin name Annie as a stand-in passenger. The prize was created to kickstart private development of rocket ships that would make spaceflight available to the public.

But there were significant setbacks.

Then, in 2014, SpaceShipTwo broke apart during a test flight by Scaled Composites when the co-pilot prematurely unlocked the "feathering" system and it began to deploy.

A test flight of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is scheduled to launch from the Mojave Air and Space Port, north of Los Angeles.

The US space agency paid Virgin Galactic to fly four space science and technology experiments on the VSS Unity, "making this Virgin Galactic's first revenue generating flight", the company added. The company marked a major milestone Thursday as Unity made it to a peak height of more than 51 miles, meeting the Federal Aviation Administration's definition of spaceflight. SpaceX's Elon Musk recently announced plans to take a wealthy Japanese entrepreneur and his friends on a trip around the moon.

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