Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Reaches Space for 1st Time in Historic Test Flight!

Virgin Galactic reaches space for the first time during its fourth powered flight from Mojave California

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

A personal record: This was the fourth powered test flight of the company's SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane (called VSS Unity) and its first since July.

According to the company's Twitter, SpaceShipTwo reached an altitude of 82.68 kilometers (51.4 miles), just high enough to pass the definition the United States military and NASAhave set for the edge of space (and high enough for both pilots to get FAA commercial astronaut wings).

Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides noted that recent research favoured the lower altitude. The VSS Unity then fired up its rocket engine and quickly traveled up and out of sight from a group of watchers on the ground.

One of the pilots handed Branson a small Earth stress ball when the two hugged after the space ship landed safely after about an hour's journey. "Commercial space has great potential for American economic and innovative leadership", said FAA acting administrator Dan Elwell after the flight.

"I hope we go to space today", he said ahead of liftoff.

The parent company of Virgin Galactic (Virgin) has another space-based venture in its wings: Virgin Orbit.

The winged spaceship reached 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) above the surface of Earth and achieved a speed of Mach 2.9. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos launched Blue Origin, which also plans to take space tourists on suborbital trips. Dubbed VSS Unity it took off from the runway attached to its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo.

The Air Force considers 50 miles up as the point at which space begins, CBS News space consultant William Harwood reported.

Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Two takes off for a suborbital test flight from Mojave California
Camera Icon Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Two takes off for a suborbital test flight from Mojave

These flights aren't the same as an orbital flight to space - which involves actually sending people around the Earth before coming back home.

The Unity has made three supersonic tests flights during 2018, as well as gliding and ground-based tests to ensure it was functioning correctly.

The company planned to burn the rockets for about 50 seconds, not to their full capacity but enough to send the spacecraft and its two pilots to the edge of space.

But years passed, the program suffered delay after delay and in 2014, a fatal setback: The spacecraft came apart mid-flight, killing Michael Alsbury, the pilot.

Branson said after Thursday's test he aims to launch the company's first space flight with passengers - including himself - by March 2019.

The craft was manned by two pilots, Mark Stucky and Nasa astronaut Frederick Sturckow.

A University of Florida experiment studying plant growth response to microgravity environments was also among the four investigations selected by NASA's Flight Opportunities program.

Whitesides said a review of the flight's data will last into the new year, and there will be more test flights, some with company employees as passengers.

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