Branson's Virgin Galactic successfully reaches space


Virgin Galactic's development of its spaceship took far longer than expected and endured a setback when the first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.

Richard Branson center celebrates with pilots Rick "CJ" Sturckow (L), and Mark "Forger" Stucky (R), after Virgin Galactic's tourism spaceship climbed more than 50 miles high above California's Mojave Desert on December 13, 2018.

Just earlier today, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo achieved true spaceflight for the first time in history, marking a significant day for Virgin Group, as well as a big step towards private "space tourism".

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

The spacecraft with two test pilots, Mark (Forger) Stucky and Rick (CJ) Sturckow, at the controls quickly hurtled upward and out of sight from viewers on the ground. 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.

It added: "We also plan to burn the rocket motor for durations which will see our pilots and spaceship reach space for the first time".

Branson, wearing a leather bomber jacket, hugged his son as the spacecraft raced upwards and a commentator called out the altitude.

At 51.4 miles high, VSS Unity reached the technical definition of space, earning its pilots commercial astronaut wings by the US Federal Aviation Administration, although the usual global standard is the 62-mile "Karman line". The spaceship reached Mach 2.9, almost three times the speed of sound.

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"Today we have shown Virgin Galactic can open space to the world", company owner Richard Branson said while welcoming the pilots after landing.

At the start of the flight, a special plane carrying the VSS Unity climbed to almost 13,700 meters before releasing the spaceship. The flight was the first by the vehicle to cross the boundary of 50 miles, or approximately 80 kilometers, that USA government agencies use to award astronaut wings.

Though it just scratched the lowest edge of where many believe space begins, the launch had huge implications for a growing industry aiming to fly civilians on a regular basis.

But many people expect it to happen within a year, and Sir Richard has said he will be on the first trip, leaving the company's New Mexico spaceport.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two, VSS Unity, completed its first successful trip to space on Thursday morning.

"This is a test flight, a no-kidding test flight, with all the novelty and excitement and risk", said Mr Whitesides, on the eve of the flight.

Today's powered test over California's Mojave desert marks the fourth flight since an accident three years ago which left one pilot dead.

More than 600 people have all bought tickets to be on the first round of commercial space flights in six-passenger rockets by Virgin for up to $250,000 (£200,000) a ticket.