Tourism rocket ship reaches space on test flight

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity landing at the Mojave test centre in California after her test flight

During a test flight Thursday morning in Mojave, Calif., a pair of pilots flying the company's SpaceShipTwo spacecraft hit an altitude of 51.4 miles.

A jet carrying Virgin Galactic's tourism spaceship has taken off from Mojave Air and Space Port on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 in Mojave, California.

The spectacular spaceflight, which was witnessed by a large crowd of staff and their families, as well as special guests and media, 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.

A Virgin Galactic rocket plane reached space yesterday and returned safely to the California desert, capping years of testing to become the first US commercial human flight to breach Earth's atmosphere since America's shuttle program ended in 2011.

Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight firm founded by Sir Richard Branson to take tourists into space, has kept its promise to send one of its crews into space before Christmas.

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

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

Take-off for the Virgin Galactic test flight of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity at the Mojave test centre in California

The two pilots will attempt to launch the craft on a supersonic flight to the edge of space for the first time. When you are in the test flight programme of the company you can never be completely 100 per cent sure - because that's what a test flight programme is - to test it to its limits.

Both Parrish and McGowan work for The Spaceship Company, the Virgin Galactic sister company that manufactured SpaceShipTwo.

The SpaceShipTwo will eventually be meant for commercial flights to space. However, CJ and Forger can still be considered astronauts as far as the US Air Force and other US agencies are concerned. It was Virgin Galactic's first trip to space.

The next flight test is expected within the next couple of months, depending on data analysis from Thursday's flight, Virgin Galactic said. Pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow were carried aloft in Virgin Space Ship (VSS) Unity by the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft. Virgin plans to keep striving to become the first company to offer the public the opportunity to experience zero gravity firsthand, and the opportunity to soar among the stars.

After arriving back at the test centre, the co-pilot, Mr Stucky, said: "It was a great flight". The company already has more than 600 would-be astronauts signed on to launch, all of them purchasing tickets priced between $200,000 and $250,000 per flight.

When asked about Virgin Galactic's competitors in a recent interview with CNN Business, Branson said it was not a "race". The spacecraft touched back down in Mojave about 1.5 hours after takeoff, completing the historic flight. Just recently, NASA concluded that astronaut Nick Hague made a spaceflight on Soyuz MS-10 even though the flight was aborted about two minutes after liftoff and did not attain orbit.

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