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

Audrey Hill
December 16, 2018

During a test flight Thursday morning in Mojave, Calif., a pair of pilots flying the company's SpaceShipTwo spacecraft hit an altitude of 51.4 miles.

Virgin Galactic has been hungry for cash since Richard Branson announced he would no longer accept a $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia.

VIRGIN GALACTIC'S tourism spaceship climbed more than 50 miles high above California's Mojave Desert yesterday, reaching what the company considers the edge of space for the first time.

"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 aircraft called VSS Unity reached an altitude of 271,268 feet (82.7 kilometres) reaching the lower altitudes of space.

Virgin Galactic considers 80 kilometres the boundary of space because that is the distance used by the US Air Force and other US agencies. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos launched Blue Origin, which also plans to take space tourists on suborbital trips.

Virgin Galactic plans about three additional test flights before shifting to its spaceport in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Branson himself hopes to soar to space next year, the billionaire said in an interview with Bloomberg TV from the California desert.

The spaceship reentered the atmosphere at 2.5 times the speed of sound and landed safely a few minutes later.

"People have literally put their lives on the line to get us here".

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One VSS Unity pilot, Rick "CJ" Sturckow, already has his wings: A former Marine, Sturckow was a NASA astronaut who flew on four Space Shuttle missions.

In the long term, he said, the company wants to fly "into major airports because we have a winged vehicle that can integrate smoothly in traffic patterns", Whitesides said.

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". In addition to the pilots, the spaceship carried four NASA research payloads and a mannequin named Annie.

Funded by the late billionaire Paul G. Allen and created by maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan, SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

As VSS Unity coasted upwards through the black sky and into space, Virgin Galactic Mission Control confirmed the news and congratulated the two astronaut pilots with the phrase: "Unity, Welcome to Space".

After reaching space, SpaceShipTwo began a descent slowed and stabilized by a unique "feathering" technology that temporarily rotates its twin tails upward to increase drag. The co-pilot was killed but the injured pilot managed to survive a fall from high altitude with a parachute.

Virgin Galactic has almost 700 people who have paid as much as $250,000 for its suborbital joyrides - more than the 560 or so people who have ever been to space. The company marked a major milestone Thursday as Unity made it to a peak height of more than 51 miles, meeting the Federal Aviation Administration's definition of spaceflight. Blue Origin will use the more traditional method of spacecraft attached to a rocket launched from the ground.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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