Virgin Galactic reaches for the stars

Virgin Galactic reaches for the stars

It indicates the company is not far off from sending tourists to space.

Mission official Enrico Palermo says it reached an altitude of 51 miles (82 kilometers) before beginning its gliding descent.

Sir Richard Branson is planning to step up production of spaceships and take new passenger bookings as he prepares for the launch of commercial flights as soon as next year.

Virgin Galactic is making big strides towards launching a space tourism agency but it might not be the first to do it. Competitors like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Beszos' Blue Origin are also trying to reach the same goal.

"We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test programme, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher".

VSS Unity took off attached to its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo. Eve released Unity upon reaching an altitude above 40,000 feet. After a few seconds of coasting, VSS Unity's rocket engine fired on.

For 60 seconds, the two-man crew piloted Unity, pushing it to a speed of Mach 2.9 -- almost three times the speed of sound - edging toward "the edge of space".

A Virgin Galactic spacecraft crashed during a test flight in 2014. (That's the subject of some debate, with others arguing the boundary ought to lie at 62 miles, or 100 km.) But no matter how you parse it, the view was tremendous.

One of the many posts on Twitter by Virgin Galactic showcasing the success and significance of the launch
One of the many posts on Twitter by Virgin Galactic showcasing the success and significance of the launch

"Like the early days of aviation, these commercial space flights take grit and innovation - the very attributes it takes to blaze a trail for generations to follow", the FAA said in its announcement.

Virgin Galactic considers that altitude to be the threshold of space because it's defined that way by the Air Force and other US agencies, although others have long considered the boundary to be higher.

It was carrying two pilots and four NASA research payloads, as well as a mannequin named Annie, who was acting as a stand-in passenger.

The next flight test is expected within the next couple of months, depending on data analysis from Thursday's flight, Virgin Galactic said. Branson shunned the money after learning about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in October. "Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder", Branson said in a statement. "Space is not cheap", he said. "I've personally invested about a billion dollars in this project, so having our first money coming back is a good feeling.We've got to make this a profitable venture, and I think we can make it a profitable venture".

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), an industry association that promotes commercial human spaceflight, congratulated Virgin Galactic, one of its members. This was the company's fourth rocket-powered flight of its test program.

A crewed spaceship built to carry private passengers has reached space - and generated its first revenue - for the first time.

The tragedy spurred critics of space tourism who have deemed such projects irresponsibly risky.

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