Virgin Galactic's spaceplane successfully tests edge of space

Pablo Tucker
December 17, 2018

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (SS2) took two pilots above 50 miles (80 kilometers) in altitude today, which some consider the demarcation between air and space. Rather than getting us back to the moon though, the main goal of these missions is to make a flight into 'space' commercially available.

It's the first time since 2011, when the USA retired the Space Shuttle, that humans have taken off from American soil and gone into space, reported Wired Magazine.

Since then, the world's space agencies have relied on Russian Soyuz rockets to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.

"This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration".

"We made it to space!" Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder and owner of the company that built Unity, watched the historic moment from the Mojave desert in the California desert. 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.

Virgin Galactic has almost 700 people who have paid as much as $250,000 for its suborbital joyrides - more than the 560 or so people who have ever been to space.

Regardless of whether SS2 reached "space" today, the flight marks an achievement that has been more than a decade in the making and moves Richard Branson's company one step closer to flying passengers on suborbital flights.

"Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine", Whitesides said. Pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow were carried aloft in Virgin Space Ship (VSS) Unity by the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft.

"From our Virgin companies' point of view, a hard Brexit would torpedo some of our companies", he said, adding that Virgin Holidays would be hit as the pound would drop to parity and fewer people would be able to afford to go overseas.

"With a good rocket motor burn, the mission went beyond the 50-mile altitude target", tweeted NASA.

In July, after burning its rocket motor for 42 seconds, Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity reached a height of 32 miles, a part of the atmosphere called the mesosphere.

The carrier aeroplane hauled the SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket plane to an altitude of about 45,000ft (13.7km) and released it.

Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, shortly after Musk set up SpaceX and Jeff Bezos set up Blue Origin.

Its first test flights with humans on board are scheduled for next year.

Branson greeted the two pilots after the test, declaring "Space is Virgin territory!"

"It's been 14 long years to get here", Branson told reporters after the landmark 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.

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