Science

Virgin Galactic reaches space and is one step closer to space tourism

Virgin Galactic reaches space and is one step closer to space tourism”

However you measure it, though, the flight represents a triumph for Virgin Galactic - and a stark change from just over four years ago, when the company grabbed headlines for a very different, altogether tragic reason.

The mated jet and rocket ship lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port shortly after 7 a.m. Thursday. That's where Earth's upper atmosphere ends, and it's about 62 miles, or 100 km, high.

Richard Branson center celebrates with pilots Rick "CJ" Sturckow (L), and Mark "Forger" Stucky (R), after Virgin Galactic's tourism spaceship climbed more than 50 miles high above California's Mojave Desert on December 13, 2018. The data collected from the burning of the rocket motor and the added additional altitude will decide their future decision of at what point do they need to shut the rocket motor down.

The company, owned by billionaire Richard Branson, is now one step closer to its 14-year-old goal of sending tourists into space.

"Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space".

Branson greeted the two pilots after the test, declaring "Space is Virgin territory!" After taking off at 7:11 am this morning and detaching from WhiteKnightTwo, its custom airliner mothership, pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Rick "CJ" Sturckow reached a height 51.4 miles high in the craft to the edge of the stratosphere where they experienced weightlessness and the curvature of the Earth.

The VSS Unity took off the Mojave Desert early on Thursday
Image The VSS Unity took off the Mojave Desert early on Thursday

This May 29, 2018 photo provided by Virgin Galactic shows the VSS Unity craft during a supersonic flight test.

On the December 13 test flight, SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket motor burned for 60 seconds, several seconds longer than the high end of estimates of the burn time company officials gave at a briefing the day before.

During a meeting with reporters here Wednesday afternoon, George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic's chief executive, said everything was looking good for the launch and that the team was ready for "all the novelty, excitement and risk that comes with a real test flight". The craft fell a bit shy of space by what is probably the most popular definition, the Kármán line, though.

The company says roughly 600 people have reserved tickets costing between $200,000 and $250,000.

Then, in 2014, SpaceShipTwo broke apart during a test flight by Scaled Composites when the co-pilot prematurely unlocked its unique "feathering" system and it began to deploy.

"The real limitation we're shooting for is an altitude", said Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, ahead of the launch, as reported by SpaceNews.



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