Virgin Galactic plane reaches space, lands back on Earth

15 December, 2018, 16:32 | Author: Gerard Cortez
  • Final frontier A special jet carried the spacecraft towards the edge of space

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said Thursday he estimates he will take his first flight to space within the next six months. That marks the first time Virgin Galactic has broken through the 50-mile boundary, which is where the United States Air Force defines when space begins. 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.

The rocket ship hit an altitude of 82km before beginning its gliding descent, said mission official Enrico Palermo. It landed minutes later.

Ultimately, the company aims to carry paying passengers on its spaceship, which is created to carry six people in addition to two pilots.

Branson, wearing a leather bomber jacket, hugged his son as the spacecraft raced upwards and a commentator called out the altitude.

It planned to "burn the rocket motor for durations which will see our pilots and spaceship reach a space altitude for the first time", it added.

Given the tragedy that struck in 2014 when the previous Virgin ship, the VSS Enterprise, crashed as a result of pilot error, the company warns that "there is no guarantee that everything will work perfectly first time".

"Today we have shown Virgin Galactic can open space to the world", company owner Richard Branson said while welcoming the pilots after landing.

The aircraft reached a staggering altitude of 271,268ft after being released by its carrier plane at 43,000ft.

After the test flight, Branson said he aimed for first commercial flight as early as March 2019.

Thumbs up up and away Richard Branson with pilots Rick CJ Sturckow and Mark Stucky
Thumbs up up and away Richard Branson with pilots Rick CJ Sturckow and Mark Stucky

That's "space" by the USA definition, which awards astronaut wings to anyone who goes above 50 miles. "When you are in the test flight program of a space company, you can never be completely, 100 percent sure, because that's what a test flight program is", he said.

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.

The supersonic flight takes Virgin Galactic a big step closer to turning this dream of commercial space tourism into reality.

Stucky, beaming from an outdoor stage near the runway after returning from the test flight, said he'd been waiting for the moment "for decades".

To date, this flight was the fourth rocket-powered test flight of the VSS Unity, which was first unveiled by Virgin Galactic in 2016.

"It's a day that we've been waiting for for a long time", CEO George Whitesides told reporters Wednesday at the Virgin Galactic facilities at Mojave Air and Space Port.

Short sightseeing trips to space aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket are likely to cost around $200,000 to $300,000, at least to start, Reuters reported in July.

More than 600 people have bought tickets - some paying $250,000 - for the chance of four minutes of weightlessness beyond the reach of gravity.

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