Virgin Galactic sends tourist rocket into space for first time

The SpaceShipTwo after flying to space

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has successfully launched a tourism rocket plane into space for the first time.

Branson's aerospace firm reached a boundary more than 50 miles above Earth for the first time.

The Mojave, Calif., launch was the fourth test flight of the SpaceShipTwo Unity, reports Space.com, which has photos. The spaceship ignited its rocket engine and it quickly hurtled upward and out of sight of viewers on the ground.

It then began its gliding descent back to the runway, said mission official Enrico Palermo.

The company plans to eventually take paying passengers on short trips to space. The Karman Line is perhaps more commonly accepted; for example, it was the target altitude for the Ansari X Prize, which offered $10 million to the first private team to launch a reusable crewed craft to space twice within a two-week span.

Mr Branson, was present at the take-off, along with hundreds of spectators in the California desert early this morning. The rocket burnt for 60 seconds before being shut down, leaving the craft to coast to the top of its climb, reaching an altitude of 51.38 miles.

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Unity's rocket burned for a total of 60 seconds, catapulting the spacecraft to a speed of Mach 2.9 - 2.9 times the speed of sound or 2,225 miles per hour. The first SpaceShipTwo model, VSS Enterprise, crashed in 2014, killing one of the two pilots onboard.

Virgin Galactic reached the edge of space for the first time in an historic test flight which could move the dream of space tourism closer to a reality.

SpaceShipTwo, the company's suborbital space plane, was ferried to an altitude of 50,000 feet by WhiteKnightTwo, a twin-fuselage carrier aircraft.

A visibly emotional Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic's founder, told reporters after the flight that it meant "myself and thousands of other people like me" could soon see space for themselves.

Virgin Galactic has said it would use the US Air Force's definition of space as its standard.

Fourteen years after the company's founding, it's finally made it to space-just. The FAA plans to formally honor the pilots of Thursday's flight by awarding them astronaut wings at a ceremony in Washington next year.

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According to the statement, if the flight is successful the company will then "start simulating the commercial weight distribution in the spaceship represented by our future passengers".

Virgin Galactic's program created to kick off space tourism has just reached another milestone with a flight that nearly reached the edge of space.

"This is a test flight, a no-kidding test flight, with all the novelty and excitement and risk", said Mr Whitesides, on the eve of the flight.

Virgin Galactic is racing against other companies to send clients to space.

So far, more than 600 people have ponied up some $250,000 for a 90-minute flight on one of Virgin's suborbital missions, including Justin Bieber and Citibike enthusiast Leonardo DiCaprio.

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