Published: Sun, December 16, 2018
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Virgin Galactic's rocket plane reaches edge of space

Virgin Galactic's rocket plane reaches edge of space

Virgin Galactic's fourth flight test on the VSS Unity is scheduled for Thursday, weather permitting.

A Virgin Galactic rocket plane reached space on Thursday and returned safely to the California desert, capping years of testing to become the first US commercial human flight to breach Earth's atmosphere since America's shuttle program ended in 2011.

After successfully reaching space and then landing back on Earth, SpaceShipTwo is now the first craft to launch humans into space from USA soil since NASA's Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

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. And it effectively opens a new era in human spaceflight, one where companies are working to end governments' long held monopoly on space, aiming to push farther faster.

Virgin Galactic's spaceship did not launch on a rocket but took off attached to an airplane from Mojave, California. After the rocket plane topped 50-mile altitude, reaching an apogee of 51.4 miles above earth, a crying Branson high-fived and hugged spectators.

Virgin Galactic considers that altitude to be the threshold of space because it's defined that way by the Air Force and other USA agencies, although others have long considered the boundary to be higher. Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good ...

The supersonic flight takes Virgin Galactic a big step closer to turning this dream of commercial space tourism into reality.

"Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine".

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.

"Congrats to @VirginGalactic on SpaceShipTwo successfully flying to suborbital space with our four @NASA_Technology payloads onboard", NASA said on Twitter.

Galactic shows the VSS Unity craft during a supersonic flight test. The spaceship isn’t launched from the
Virgin Galactic could soon reach space for the first time

The VSS Unity suborbital spaceliner reached an altitude of approximately 51 miles above California's Mojave Desert this mornong.

The spaceship isn't launched from the ground but is carried beneath a special plane to an altitude near 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).

The company plans to eventually take paying passengers on short trips to space.

SpaceX and Northrop Grumman operate cargo ships that launch from the United States, toting supplies and food to the space station, but not people.

SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, and Boeing are under contract with NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, the orbiting laboratory, by as early as next year.

Branson, who said he personally put up $1 billion toward the roughly $1.3 billion development costs for Virgin's space businesses, told Reuters he viewed competition with Bezos and others as a race, though passenger safety was the top priority.

A successful flight will be significant progress toward the start of commercial flights that Virgin Galactic promised more than a decade ago.

"It is a very very exciting time I think for investors investing in commercial space ship companies to do so", Branson said.

"We are pleased that Virgin Galactic is among the many pioneers of space flight helping write a new chapter in aerospace history".

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