Virgin Galactic Reaches Space

Virgin Galactic tourism rocket ship reaches space in test

A Virgin Galactic rocket plane blasted to the edge of space on Thursday and returned safely to the California desert, capping off years of hard testing to become the first U.S. commercial human flight to reach space since America's shuttle programme ended in 2011.

A rocket ship set to launch from California's Mojave Desert could herald a giant step toward the long-awaited dream of space tourism for Virgin Galactic.

"Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space", Branson said in a statement afterward.

Two test pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and former NASA astronaut Rick "CJ" Sturckow then hurtled the craft upward and out of sight.

The spacecraft (for that is what it now is) hit Mach 2.9 and reached 271,268ft (about 82.7km) above the Earth, before beginning its descent to an unpowered landing. It landed on a runway minutes later.

Ultimately, the company aims to carry paying passengers on its spaceship, which is created to carry six people in addition to two pilots.

Mr Branson, was present at the take-off, along with hundreds of spectators in the California desert early this morning. Unity traveled at an altitude of about 50,000 feet between the twin fuselage cargo aircraft, before firing up its rocket engine to break into outer space.

Given the tragedy that struck in 2014 when the previous Virgin ship, the VSS Enterprise, crashed as a result of pilot error, the company warns that "there is no guarantee that everything will work perfectly first time".

At the start of the flight, a special plane carrying the VSS Unity climbed to almost 13,700 meters before releasing the spaceship.

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The 80-kilometer space boundary is used by the U.S. Air Force and other U.S. agencies.

Virgin Galactic reaches space for the first time during its 4th powered flight from Mojave, Calif.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and a star-studded list of supporters were on the ground cheering on the mission throughout the daring flight.

Virgin Galactic has not said exactly when it plans to begin commercial flights.

"Incremental flight test programs are by definition open-ended and, to a great extent, each test depends on the data from the test that precedes it, ' Galactic said regarding this weeks test".

In the meantime, a commercial space race is underway as companies rush to build spacecraft that can carry astronauts and tourists into microgravity. These missions will allow customers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and also see the curvature of Earth against the blackness of space, company representatives have said.

As well as ballast to represent paying passengers (or "talking cargo" as one commercial pilot memorably described those sat at the back of the aircraft), NASA sent a number of technology experiments to take advantage of the extended period of micro-gravity achieved during the sub-orbital flight.

More than 600 people have committed up to $250,000 for rides in the six-passenger rocket, which is about the size of an executive jet.

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