Published: Mon, December 17, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Virgin Galactic Has Launched its SpaceShipTwo Into Space

Virgin Galactic Has Launched its SpaceShipTwo Into Space

Virgin Galactic can argue in favor of its claim to reaching space.

How well the VSS Unity performs will depend on how long it burns the rocket motor; during the previous flight, the rocket motor burned for 42 seconds and helped the vehicle reach a peak altitude of 52Km.

The mated jet and rocket ship lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port shortly after 7 a.m. Thursday. But it didn't reach the Karman Line, the common line used to represent the border between Earth's atmosphere and space, 100 kilometers above Earth's surface.

Richard Branson center celebrates with pilots Rick "CJ" Sturckow (L), and Mark "Forger" Stucky (R), after Virgin Galactic's tourism spaceship climbed more than 50 miles high above California's Mojave Desert on December 13, 2018.

Branson spoke to CBSN from California's Mojave Desert after Virgin Galactic got one step closer to sending tourists to space.

Sir Richard is in a race with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to send the first fee-paying passengers into space.

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

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"The real limitation we're shooting for is an altitude", said Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, ahead of the launch, as reported by SpaceNews. The planned sub-orbital lobs have been delayed repeatedly since the passenger-toting rocketplane's lavish unveiling back in 2009 and the firm has had to overcome a number of setbacks, including an incident that led to the inflight destruction of its predecessor in 2014 and the death of one of the two pilots onboard.

Virgin Galactic has continued its incremental test programme and a third flight in July cracked Mach 2 as pilots kept the rocket burning for 42 seconds, powering through the stratosphere to an apogee of 170,800 feet.

"SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space", Virgin Galactic representatives said via Twitter during today's flight.

Once at the correct altitude, the pilots cut the engine, letting the ship to glide upwards a bit more and then level off - this allows passengers to feel weightlessness and see the planet against the blackness of space.

On this particular test flight, the company is also carrying along four unnamed payloads through NASA's Flight Opportunities program.

He also stated that, if all goes well, only a few more test flights would be needed before Virgin Galactic would be ready to shift operations to Spaceport America in New Mexico, where the company plans to perform commercial flights.

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