Virgin Galactic Launches Tourism Spaceship From Mojave Desert

Virgin Galactic Launches Tourism Spaceship From Mojave Desert

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo flew higher than it ever has before, surpassing what the US Air Force considers the boundary of space, and marking the first manned flight to space from US soil since 2011.

On Thursday, the SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket ship took off from the Mojave Desert in California.

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. It landed minutes later.

The commonly accepted worldwide definition of space is 62 miles high (100 kilometers), but the US Air Force considers the space boundary to be a bit lower, at 50 miles. "The real limitation we're shooting for is an altitude", said Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, in a briefing with reporters here December 12.

It was the fourth powered test flight for VSS Unity and the closest yet to mimicking the flight path that it is expected to one day take on commercial missions. The spaceship isn't launched from the ground but is carried beneath the special aircraft to an altitude around 15,240 metres.

Virgin Space Ship Unity was released from a carrier aircraft and ignited its rocket engine.

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.

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Over 600 people from more than 50 countries have reserved their places, at $250,000 dollars (£200,000) a seat, on the six-passenger rocket.

If successful, it could help usher in a new era of space tourism, and maybe a different perspective of life. The rocket is shut down and the craft coasts to the top of its climb - and then begins a descent slowed and stabilized by unique "feathering" technology.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two is preparing for its next testing stage, and the likely event of it reaching space for the first time. Branson's goal: Open up space travel to more and more people.

For the first time in the company's 14-year history, the Richard Branson space outfit has sent one of their suborbital SpaceShipTwo spacecraft to space - at least by their definition. The prize was created to kick-start private development of rocket ships that would make spaceflight available to the public.

The company hasn't set a schedule for beginning commercial flights of SpaceShipTwo from New Mexico's Spaceport America, but is laying the groundwork for increased commercial operations.

SpaceX, the company owned by Elon Musk, is focused on carrying equipment for Nasa's programmes - although they do hope to take a Japanese billionaire around the moon by 2023.

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