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Virgin Galactic’s tourism spaceship climbed a lot more than 50 miles high above California’s Mojave Desert on Thursday, reaching for the very first time what the ongoing company considers the boundary of space. (Dec. 13) AP

MOJAVE – Virgin Galactic’s tourism spaceship climbed a lot more than 50 miles high above California’s Mojave Desert on Thursday, reaching for the 1st time what the business considers the boundary of space.

The rocket ship hit an altitude of 51 miles before you begin its gliding descent, said mission official Enrico Palermo. It landed on a runway minutes later.

“We managed to get to space!” Palermo said.

Thursday’s supersonic flight takes Virgin Galactic nearer to turning the long-delayed imagine commercial space tourism into reality. The ongoing company aims to take paying customers on the six-passenger rocket, which is concerning the size of an executive jet. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has said he really wants to be among the first up to speed.

More on Virgin Galactic:

Branson greeted both pilots following the test, declaring “Space is Virgin territory!”


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Virgin Galactic considers 50 miles the boundary of space because this is the distance utilized by the U.S. Air Force along with other U.S. agencies. That’s not the same as a long-held view that the boundary reaches 62 miles. Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides noted that recent research favors the low altitude.

Whitesides said overview of the flight’s data can last in to the new year, and you will have more test flights, some with company employees as passengers. He wouldn’t estimate when commercial passenger trips might begin.

“It is a huge step of progress as soon as we go through the data we’ll see what that pathway is,” he said.

At the beginning of the test flight, a particular jet carrying the Virgin Space Ship Unity flew to an altitude near 43,000 feet before releasing the craft. The spaceship ignited its rocket engine also it quickly hurtled upward and out of sight of viewers on the floor. The spaceship reached Mach 2.9, 3 x the speed of sound nearly.

The two test pilots — Mark “Forger” Stucky and former NASA astronaut Rick “CJ” Sturckow — will undoubtedly be awarded commercial astronaut wings, said Federal Aviation Administration official Bailey Edwards.

“It had been an excellent flight and I cannot wait to accomplish it again,” said Sturckow, who flew on the area shuttle four times.

Virgin Galactic’s development of its spaceship took far longer than expected and endured a setback once the first experimental craft broke apart throughout a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.

“Folks have literally put their lives at risk to obtain us here,” Branson said. “Today is a lot for them since it is for all those.”

MORE: SpaceX signs first private passenger for rocket mission round the moon

More than 600 folks have committed around $250,000 for rides offering several minutes of weightlessness and a view of the planet earth far below. The spaceship may also be useful for research: NASA had science experiment on the test flight.

The endeavor began in 2004 when Branson announced the founding of Virgin Galactic in the heady days following the flights of SpaceShipOne, the initial financed manned spacecraft that made three flights into space privately.

Funded by the late billionaire Paul G. Allen and developed by maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan, SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize. The prize was made to kick-start private development of rocket ships that could make spaceflight open to the general public.

When Branson licensed the SpaceShipOne technology, he envisioned a fleet carrying paying passengers by 2007, launching them from the facility in southern New Mexico called Spaceport America.

But there have been significant setbacks. Three technicians were killed in 2007 by an explosion while testing a propellant system at Scaled Composites LLC, which built SpaceShipOne and was building the initial SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic.

Then, in 2014, SpaceShipTwo broke apart throughout a test flight by Scaled Composites once the co-pilot prematurely unlocked its unique “feathering” braking system also it begun to deploy. The co-pilot was killed however the injured pilot were able to survive a fall from thin air with a parachute.

During descent, the craft’s twin tails are created to rotate upward to slow it down, then go back to a standard flying configuration prior to the craft glides to a landing on a runway.

New versions of SpaceShipTwo are designed by way of a Virgin Galactic sister company and flight testing is currently in-house. Its previous test flight reached 32 miles (52 kilometers).

Branson isn’t alone in the area tourism business: Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is likely to take space tourists on trips, utilizing the more traditional approach to a capsule atop a rocket that blasts faraway from a launch pad. SpaceX’s Elon Musk recently announced plans to have a wealthy Japanese entrepreneur and his friends on a journey round the moon.

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