Virgin Galactic's rocket plane reaches edge of space

Virgin Galactic's rocket plane reaches edge of space

New versions of SpaceShipTwo are built by a Virgin Galactic sister company and flight testing is now in-house.

It had reached space altitudes around 50 minutes after take-off, which the company's Twitter account acknowledged with a tweet which read: "SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space".

"Today we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good". "It was an indescribable feeling: joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come".

"Although this could happen as soon as Thursday morning, the nature of flight test means that it may take us a little longer to get to that milestone", the company admitted. Competitors include Blue Origin - founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos - and Elon Musk's SpaceX whose unmanned Falcon 9 rocket has brought supply to the International Space Station for NASA. It has also earned the plane's pilots, Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow, commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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. "Ideally, we want to do three more flights before we go to New Mexico".

Richard Branson, seen an in October 2018 photo, originally envisioned a fleet carrying paying passengers to space by 2007. That is different from a long-held view that the boundary is at 100 kilometres. 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. "At this altitude, a conventional plane would need to reach orbital velocity or risk falling back to Earth".

The successful fourth test flight for the spacecraft marked a major comeback for Virgin Galactic after the fatal test flight of its spacecraft four years ago.

Branson's space venture suffered a major setback in 2014 when its first space plane, VSS Enterprise, broke apart during a test flight, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injuring pilot Peter Siebold. The believed that the ship should have had better safeguards to protect against such mistakes.

SpaceShipTwo, named the VSS Unity, hitched a ride on Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo aircraft before separating and taking off under its own power.

The previous record for the spacecraft was just more than 32 miles. That said, the lower altitude of VSS Unity also provides an opportunity for research, serving the dual-purpose of science and recreation.

Unlike other rockets launched by NASA, Virgin's spacecraft does not make a vertical launch from a pad on the ground.

The VSS Unity is dropped from a carrier aircraft at about 50,000 feet, at which point its rocket ignites and propels the vehicle on a vertical tear into the cosmos.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has said he wanted to be one of the first on board.

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