Published: Mon, December 17, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Branson's Virgin Galactic reaches edge of space

Branson's Virgin Galactic reaches edge of space

Virgin Galactic has followed through with their ambitious goal to launch their SpaceShipTwo vehicle into space before Christmas.

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 USA military and NASAhave set for the edge of space (and high enough for both pilots to get FAA commercial astronaut wings).

The mated jet and rocket ship lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port shortly after 7 a.m. Thursday.

But Thursday's flight did not breach the 100km Karman Line, which many organisations use to resolve debates about where space begins.

That day can not come soon enough for Mercury 13 candidate Wally Funk, who booked her flight on Branson's dream machine back in 2012 and at 79 might finally get a chance to go to space.

The engine burned for 60 seconds, accelerating Unity to a maximum velocity of Mach 2.9, or 2.9 times the speed of sound, Virgin Galactic representatives said.

This success brings the company one step closer to civilian tourist trips, something Branson hopes to achieve as early as 2019.

After successfully reaching space and then landing back on Earth, SpaceShipTwo is now the first craft to launch humans into space from US soil since NASA's Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

Virgin space tourist carrier
An artist’s impression of the Virgin SpaceShipTwo

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.

NASA contracted with Virgin Galactic through its Flight Opportunities program.

"Today we have shown Virgin Galactic can open space to the world", Sir Richard said.

On the December 13 test flight, SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket motor burned for 60 seconds, several seconds longer than the high end of estimates of the burn time company officials gave at a briefing the day before.

Virgin Galactic envisions SpaceShipTwo as a prolific research vehicle as well, and the spaceliner has already toted scientific experiments on its test flights.

Virgin Galactic has more tests of VSS Unity planned before moving to Spaceport America in New Mexico where it will set up its tourism operation. It has since regularly made similar promises to have space flights airborne in the near future.

More than 600 people from 50 different countries have reserved places to fly with Virgin Galactic when all testing has been completed.

He founded the commercial spaceflight company in 2004, shortly after Mr Musk started SpaceX and Jeff Bezos established Blue Origin.

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