Science

Virgin Galactic's first space flight is a soaring success

Virgin Galactic's first space flight is a soaring success”

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic recently had a successful test flight, flying to the edge of space and back at a height of 82.7km.

Virgin Galactic says its tourism spaceship has climbed more than 50 miles high, which the company considers the boundary of space. The spacecraft reached an altitude of 51.4 miles, or almost 83 kilometers, before performing a slow backflip and gliding back to land at Mojave.

Rather than aiming for space using a NASA-esque vertically launched rocket, Virgin Galactic uses a rocket-powered space plane dubbed VSS Unity, a craft more comparable to the supersonic X planes developed by the United States military.

Virgin Galactic's development of its spaceship took far longer than expected and endured a setback when the first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.

"We saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled".

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Sporting Code for astronautics recognizes as astronauts only those persons whose flights exceed an altitude of 100 kilometers or 62 miles.

The rocket plane re-entered the atmosphere at 2.5 times the speed of sound and landed a few minutes later.

Flown by two pilots, Mark Stucky and Nasa astronaut Frederick Sturckow, the flight is also the first time that humans has been sent into space from U.S. soil since Nasa's space shuttle programme ended in 2011. Thursday's flight was the fourth test flight.

The historic achievement has been recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration who announced December 13 that early next year they will present pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Sturckow, as a four-time space shuttle pilot, will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings.

Sir Richard Branson celebrate Virgin Galactic's first spaceflight.

With two seasoned pilots in the cockpit - Mark "Forger" Stucky and C.J. Sturckow - the vehicle known as SpaceShipTwo was ferried to an altitude of about 43,000 feet by a mothership. The flight on December 13 was Virgin Galactic's longest rocket-powered flight ever. Branson handed the space-flown ring to Parrish.

Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos, also plans to fly tourists, though to a higher altitude and with a rocket that launches vertically, not a spaceplane. CSF President Eric Stallmer said the "commercial space industry will create unprecedented opportunities for space tourism and democratize space for all".

It costs $250,000 (around £200,000) to book a seat on VSS Unity, which has room for six passengers and two pilots.

"I've been so proud of the [Virgin Galactic] team, how they've responded to [the tragedy] and really moved forward with a sense of urgency", Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told CNN Business two weeks ago.



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