Virgin's SpaceShipTwo reaches space for first time

Virgin's SpaceShipTwo reaches space for first time

Rocket man and Virgin billionaire Richard Branson's commercial space programme successfully reached the edge of the world's atmosphere for the first time in its fourth test flight across the United States today.

A rocket ship set to launch from California's Mojave Desert could herald a giant step toward the long-awaited dream of space tourism for Virgin Galactic.

Mission official Enrico Palermo says it reached an altitude of 51 miles (82 kilometers) before beginning its gliding descent. It landed on a runway minutes later.

Virgin Galactic, which is focused on space tourism, aims to use SpaceShipTwo to take paying customers for a short journey to and from space.

It added: "We also plan to burn the rocket motor for durations which will see our pilots and spaceship reach space for the first time".

The engine burned for 60 seconds, accelerating Unity to a maximum velocity of Mach 2.9, or 2.9 times the speed of sound, Virgin Galactic representatives said. The planned sub-orbital lobs have been delayed repeatedly since the passenger-toting rocketplane's lavish unveiling back in 2009 and the firm has had to overcome a number of setbacks, including an incident that led to the inflight destruction of its predecessor in 2014 and the death of one of the two pilots onboard.

The brief, suborbital flight - with two pilots on board - was a key milestone for the company headed by British tycoon Richard Branson, who is striving to carry tourists to space at a cost of $US250,000 ($345,000) per seat.

That's "space" by the US definition, which awards astronaut wings to anyone who goes above 50 miles.

Virgin Galactic could soon reach space for the first time

COLLIDE's principal investigator, UCF physics and planetary science professor Josh Colwell, said he and his team were excited by the opportunity to be on the inaugural flight to space for Virgin Galactic. He would not estimate when commercial passenger trips might begin.

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.

"Incremental flight test programs are by definition open-ended and, to a great extent, each test depends on the data from the test that precedes it", the blog said.

Along with the two test pilots on board, SpaceShipTwo was carrying four microgravity experiments selected by NASA, including the University of Central Florida's Collisions Into Dust Experiment, or COLLIDE.

Sturckow, a former space shuttle pilot, will become the only person to be awarded astronaut wings from both NASA and the FAA.

More than 600 people have committed up to $US250,000 for rides that include several minutes of weightlessness and a view of the Earth far below.

Virgin's ultimate goal is to build a series of spaceports around the globe, "and we're operating multiple times a week at each one of those and enabling tens of thousands of people to experience space", George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic's chief executive, said in a recent interview.

Related Articles