Virgin Galactic successfully launches tourism rocket ship into space for first time

Virgin Galactic successfully launches tourism rocket ship into space for first time

Virgin Galactic successfully launches tourism rocket ship into space for first time

Reaching an altitude of 51 miles (82.68 km), the duo on board was able to experience a few moments of weightlessness. The plane returned to a normal flying configuration before gliding to land on the Mojave Air and Space Port runway.

The aircraft reached an altitude of 271,268ft as it made its rapid ascent into space. 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.

Founder Richard Branson greeted the pilots after the test, declaring "Space is Virgin territory!"

The company planned to burn the rockets for about 50 seconds, not to their full capacity but enough to send the spacecraft and its two pilots to the edge of space. But the long-held view is the boundary is 62 miles. Feathered re-entry was first described by Dean Chapman in 1958, but was recently designed by Burt Rutan for use on the Virgin Galactic Suborbital SpaceShipOne.

Whitesides said a review of the flight's data will last into the new year, and there will be more test flights, some with company employees as passengers. He would not estimate when commercial passenger trips might begin.

Two test pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and former NASA astronaut Rick "CJ" Sturckow then hurtled the craft upward and out of sight. After a 60-second engine burn speeds the craft to almost three times the speed of sound, it continues its ascent, coasting until it reaches maximum altitude.

The Karman Line was named after Theodore von Karman (1881-1963), who was able to calculate that around 100 km, the air is too thin to support flight as the vehicle would have to travel faster than orbital velocity.

The Federal Aviation Administration's acting head Dan Elwell commended Virgin Galactic on its successful flight.

In addition to the test pilots, a flight test dummy and four research payloads from NASA's Flight Opportunities Program were on board to help simulate the weight distribution of having passengers on board.

"Today we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good".

It surpassed the height the US Air Force considers the boundary of space (80km), and marks the first manned flight to space from US soil since 2011.

More than 600 people have already paid up to £200,000 to ride on the six-passenger rocket.

One pilot lost his life and another was seriously injured in 2014 after the SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight.

The rocket is shut down and the craft coasts to the top of its climb - and then begins a descent slowed and stabilized by unique "feathering" technology.

A personal record: This was the fourth powered test flight of the company's SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane (called VSS Unity) and its first since July.

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.

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