Virgin Galactic headed into space for the first time

Michele Stevens
December 15, 2018

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 founder Richard Branson has said he wanted to be one of the first on board. On Wednesday, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said that's the standard used by the U.S. Air Force and other U.S. agencies. That differs from a long-held view that the boundary is reached at 100 kilometers.

Virgin's latest flight test comes four years after the original SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight that killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot, dealing a major setback to Virgin Galactic, a USA offshoot of the London-based Virgin Group. They too are hoping to take their first commercial passengers in 2019.

"This is a huge step forward and once we look at the data we'll see what that pathway is", he said.

SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, took off in the early morning sunshine at the Mojave test centre in California on Thursday in front of hundreds of employees and their family members.

The two pilots on board Virgin Galactic's spacecraft Unity became the company's first astronauts.

The rocket-propelled plane then re-entered the Earth's atmosphere at 2.9 times the speed of sound and landing safely on a runway in California's Mojave Desert.

The achievement has been recognized by the FAA, which plans to award the flight's pilots in a ceremony next year.

"Commercial space has great potential for American economic and innovative leadership", said FAA acting administrator Dan Elwell after the flight.

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

The flight was also Virgin Galactic's first time to generate revenue, ferrying four research payloads as part of a program co-sponsored by NASA.

Virgin Galactic marked a major milestone today in that race, as its spaceship made it to a peak height, or apogee, of 82.7km, after taking off attached to an airplane from Mojave, California, then firing its rocket motors to reach new heights. Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good ... When it crossed the 50-mile mark around 11:15 a.m. ET, it became the first human-piloted USA commercial flight to leave the atmosphere since 2011.

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.

Funded by the late billionaire Paul G. Allen and created by maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan, SpaceShipOne won the $US10 million Ansari X Prize. The prize was created to kick-start private development of rocket ships that would make spaceflight available to the public. On October 31, 2014, Virgin suffered a crippling setback with the death of co-pilot Mike Alsubry and injury of pilot Peter Siebold when a predecessor craft crashed due to a combination of human error and an engineering flaw.

An exuberant Branson took the stage at the Mojave Air and Space Port here to congratulate the company and its employees for a successful test flight December 13 of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle named VSS Unity, which reached a peak altitude of 82.7 kilometers. Branson started Virgin Galactic in 2004.

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