Virgin Galactic Reaches Space

The plane is set to fly on Thursday

Branson's aerospace firm reached a boundary more than 50 miles above Earth for the first time.

The rocket ship, called SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, climbed more than 82 kilometers during the flight above California's Mojave Desert. Tickets will be offered ahead of the first commercial launch, and test flights with Blue Origin employees are expected to begin in 2019.

He also stated that, if all goes well, only a few more test flights would be needed before Virgin Galactic would be ready to shift operations to Spaceport America in New Mexico, where the company plans to perform commercial flights.

Virgin Galactic is racing against other companies to send clients to space. Between bad weather, mechanical troubles and adjustments, and ensuring that its safety pilots are not put in unnecessary danger.

Branson told reporters Thursday that "by being successful today, we hope to bring in one or two other investors".

The space tourism company's feat marks the first successful manned space flight launched on US soil since NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011. That is different from a long-held view that the boundary is at 100 kilometres. "What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century's defining industries", said Whitesides, in a statement.

The VSS Unity is dropped from a carrier aircraft at about 50,000 feet, at which point its rocket ignites and propels the vehicle on a vertical tear into the cosmos. The craft, known as the VSS Unity, took off attached to an airplane, then fired its rocket motors to reach new heights.

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The mission was piloted by Mark "Forger" Stucky and C.J Sturckow (as noted on NASASpaceFlight, Sturckow is no stranger to space having traveled there four times on board NASA's retired fleet of shuttles). The space plane had a top speed of nearly three times the speed of sound and had a Mach 2.5 supersonic re-entry into the planet's atmosphere. Branson shunned the money after learning about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in October.

"Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached Space", said Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson. "I've personally invested about a billion dollars in this project, so having our first money coming back is a good feeling..."

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

Based on the success of Thursday's launch, Virgin Galactic plans to move ahead with full-duration burns of the SpaceShipTwo rocket, about 60 seconds.

The next step for Virgin Galactic now hinges on when the company will start flying some of the 600 customers that have purchased $250,000 seats on the spaceplane. That said, the lower altitude of VSS Unity also provides an opportunity for research, serving the dual-purpose of science and recreation.

"The amusing thing about races is people always say, "We're not in a race" until they actually win", Branson said.

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