Branson looks ahead to beginning commercial SpaceShipTwo flights

VMS Unity

How well the VSS Unity performs will depend on how long it burns the rocket motor; during the previous flight, the rocket motor burned for 42 seconds and helped the vehicle reach a peak altitude of 52Km.

As for VSS Unity itself, Virgin Galactic confirmed at 16:14 UTC that the spacecraft had landed safely at Mojave Airport, a little over 10 minutes after touching space.

"SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space", Virgin Galactic representatives said via Twitter during today's flight. Branson hopes to compete directly with Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Amazon's Jeff Bezos which also plans to ferry customers to space.

Virgin's twin-fuselage carrier airplane holding the SpaceShipTwo passenger spacecraft took off soon after 7am local time from the Mojave Air and Space Port, about 145 km north of Los Angeles.

The supersonic flight takes Virgin Galactic a big step closer to turning this dream of commercial space tourism into reality. The private-sector rocket ship designed for tourists successfully reached the edge of space for the first time on Thursday as part of ongoing tests on the craft.

A jet carrying Virgin Galactic's tourism spaceship has taken off from a California airport on a test flight.

Branson predicted that the company would make it to space before Christmas, and that prediction held true.

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Virgin Galactic considers 80km the boundary of space because it is used by the USA airforce and other USA agencies.

After the spaceliner and its two test pilots topped an altitude of 80 kilometers, a crying Branson hugged and high-fived some of the hundreds of spectators who gathered in the California desert to witness the launch. It has also earned the plane's pilots, Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow, commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The flight was the fourth rocket-powered test mission of VSS Unity, which Virgin Galactic officially unveiled in February 2016.

Once at the correct altitude, the pilots cut the engine, letting the ship to glide upwards a bit more and then level off - this allows passengers to feel weightlessness and see the planet against the blackness of space. After that, it appears that the experience will be available to the public - for a hefty price of course.

"The real limitation we're shooting for is an altitude", said Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, ahead of the launch, as reported by SpaceNews.

"The anticipated addition of SpaceShipTwo to a growing list of commercial vehicles supporting suborbital research is exciting", Ryan Dibley, Flight Opportunities campaign manager at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, said in a statement.



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