Virgin Galactic Rocket Plane Soars to Edge of Space

Virgin Galactic advances space tourism with successful test

The VSS Unity is Virgin Galactic's second space vehicle, proceeding the first, which previously broke apart during a test flight, killing one crewmember and severely injuring the other.

Those new customers might be paying more than the $250,000 price previously offered by the company. But Virgin Galactic bounced back.

Virgin Galactic has successfully sent a spacecraft to the edge of space. It's high enough to reach the United States government's recognized definition of space, but not the 62-mile "Karman line" that is internationally recognized as the boundary.

The supersonic flight takes Virgin Galactic closer to turning the long-delayed dream of commercial space tourism into reality. It was an indescribable feeling: "joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come".

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. When it crossed the 50-mile mark around 11:15 a.m. ET, it became the first human-piloted USA commercial flight to leave the atmosphere since 2011.

The carrier airplane hauled the SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket plane to an altitude of about 45,000 feet (13.7 kms) and released it. Seconds later, SpaceShipTwo fired, catapulting it to more than 51 miles (82 km) above Earth, high enough for the pilots, Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow, to experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet.

In 2016, he unveiled a new spaceplane, dubbed Unity, and the company started its test program again, slowly pushing the envelope on test flight after test flight.

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We want to hear from you. That differs from a long-held view that the boundary is reached at 100 kilometers. "At this altitude, a conventional plane would need to reach orbital velocity or risk falling back to Earth".

Virgin's latest flight test comes four years after the original SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight that killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot, dealing a major setback to Virgin Galactic, a US offshoot of the London-based Virgin Group.

It marked the plane's fourth test flight and followed earlier setbacks in the firm's space programme.

The National Transportation Safety Board's months-long investigation into the incident ultimately concluded that it was caused by human error - though, as NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reported at the time, "investigators found that SpaceShipTwo's design was also to blame".

VSS Unity takes to the skies for her first Spaceflight. Virgin Galactic officials say recent research favors the lower number. Using a system similar to NASA's Pegasus rocket, a small rocket complete with payload will launch from a modified Boeing 747-400 airliner, the combo being called LauncherOne and Cosmic Girl, respectively.

Thursday's test flight "saw a 60 second planned rocket motor burn which propelled VSS Unity to nearly three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles", the company explained in its news release.

As the plight of Virgin Galactic shows, ending government's long-held monopoly on human spaceflight has been hard.

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