Virgin Galactic Sends SpaceShipTwo Above 50 Miles



Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Unity soared 50 miles above Earth on Thursday, ahead of the company's first commercial spaceflights for private passengers in 2019.

A camera on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity captured this view of the Earth from just over 51 miles (82.7 kilometers) up during a test launch on December 13, 2018 from Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

It successfully separated from its mother ship around 45 minutes after liftoff and engaged its rocket thrusters, reaching speeds of Mach 2.9. The de facto boundary between LEO and the Earth's upper atmosphere is called the Karman Line.

Sir Richard Branson is planning to step up production of spaceships and take new passenger bookings as he prepares for the launch of commercial flights as soon as next year.

With two seasoned pilots in the cockpit - Mark "Forger" Stucky and C.J. Sturckow - the vehicle known as SpaceShipTwo was ferried to an altitude of about 43,000 feet by a mothership.

On the ground, a gaggle of press, space enthusiasts, including Branson and his guests watched the flight, tilting their heads skyward. The mission started like many past test flights. Its previous test flight reached 32 miles (52 kilometers).

Though it did not reach orbit, the flight was the first launch of a spacecraft from United States soil with humans on board to reach the edge of space since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. NASA relies on Russian Federation to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

Since the company's inception in 2004, Virgin Galactic have made bold claims about its expected timescales for making space tourism a reality. SpaceX's Elon Musk recently announced plans to take a wealthy Japanese entrepreneur and his friends on a trip around the moon.

To accommodate more passengers, Virgin Galactic is building two more spaceships.

The flight marked a major leap forward for Virgin Galactic, which aims to launch passenger suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo (it carries eight people, two pilots and six passengers) for $250,000 a seat.

He said: "The now-astronauts, who were pilots before, had this incredible experience, being in space... and had the ride of a lifetime". The flight on December 13 was Virgin Galactic longest rocket-powered flight ever. CSF President Eric Stallmer said the "commercial space industry will create unprecedented opportunities for space tourism and democratize space for all".

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson shared the sweet moment on social media, saying, "What better way to propose than with a ring that had just flown to space?" Once the test program is finished next year, he said, the operation will move to Spaceport America, the futuristic facility in New Mexico where it intends to fly its tourist flights.

Almost 700 people have paid or put down deposits to fly aboard Virgin's suborbital missions, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop star Justin Bieber.

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