Virgin Galactic could soon reach space for the first time

Dave Mackay chief pilot for Virgin Galactic climbs in the simulator for a test flight at the Virgin Galactic headquarters

"Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached Space", said Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson.

The carrier airplane carried the SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket plane to an altitude of about 45,000 feet (13.7 kms) before releasing it.

The company said its SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, has entered the next stage of testing which will "expand the envelope for altitude, air speed, loads and thermal heating".

The spacecraft reached a height of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometres), hitting a top speed of Mach 2.9, before descending and returning the company's space port in Mojave.

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.

Over 600 people from more than 50 countries have reserved their places, at $250,000 dollars (£200,000) a seat, on the six-passenger rocket.

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.

It should be noted that Virgin is using one measure of where space begins - but it's not the only one. It's high enough to reach the USA government's recognized definition of space, but not the 62-mile "Karman line" that is internationally recognized as the boundary. 'So far train only five mins late - early doors. After a few seconds of coasting, VSS Unity's rocket engine fired on.

But a series of delays has grounded the firm, which suffered a disaster four years ago, when the VSS Enterprise broke apart in midair, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injuring pilot Peter Siebold.

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The flight was also Virgin Galactic's first time to generate revenue, ferrying four research payloads as part of a program co-sponsored by NASA.

VSS Unity's peak altitude of 51.4 miles is similar to what Virgin Galactic has planned for commercial flights.

A jet carrying Virgin Galactic's tourism spaceship has taken off from a California airport on a test flight.

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 has successfully sent a spacecraft to the edge of space. The prize was created to kick-start private development of rocket ships that would make spaceflight available to the public.

"There are a lot of firsts here today but there are also some seconds".

Virgin Galactic says it has reached a rather lofty milestone. Tickets will be offered ahead of the first commercial launch, and test flights with Blue Origin employees are expected to begin in 2019.

Richard Branson is not alone in the space tourism business. SpaceX's Elon Musk recently announced plans to take a wealthy Japanese entrepreneur and his friends on a trip around the moon.

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