Branson 'wins space race' after successful Virgin Galactic flight

Pat Wise
December 18, 2018

A tourism spaceship soared to the edge of space Thursday, the first US commercial flight to achieve the feat since the USA shuttle program ended in 2011. It indicates the company is not far off from sending tourists to space. It uses the 50-mile mark to award astronaut wings.

That prize was collected in October 2004 by the group behind SpaceShipOne, whose design Virgin Galactic adapted for VSS Unity and its other piloted, six-passenger spaceliners (which are collectively termed SpaceShipTwo vehicles).

Virgin Galactic has successfully launched a tourism rocket ship into space for the first time - with Sir Richard Branson hoping a commercial flight will take place by March 2019. We started Virgin almost 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge. "How on Earth do I describe the feeling?" he said.

New versions of SpaceShipTwo were built by a Virgin Galactic sister company and flight testing taken in-house.

The Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two rocket, which was carried up to a height of above 12,000 metres by a specially-designed plane before igniting its motors, reached 82.7km above the ground which is above the altitude at which space begins according to Nasa. Attached to that ship will be the VSS Unity spacecraft, which will be released 43,000 feet in the air and will soar as many as five miles above the Earth's surface - touching the edge of space. The spaceship proceeded to fire its hybrid rocket motor for about 50 seconds or so, longer than any on any previous test runs.

Virgin Galactic's latest success comes four years after another spacecraft crashed during a test flight that killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot. Whiteside said that's the standard used by the U.S. Air Force and other U.S. agencies. Aboard were test pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and C.J Sturckow.

Musk, the billionaire CEO of electric carmaker Tesla, said the Big Falcon Rocket could conduct its first orbital flights in two to three years as part of his grand plan to shuttle passengers to the moon and eventually fly humans and cargo to Mars. It returned to Earth minutes later.

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

Virgin Galactic has been hungry for cash since Richard Branson announced he would no longer accept a $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia.

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Branson has said he wants to be one of the first on board.

"Space is not cheap", he said.

"But let's not forget that space is also hard and we daily recognise the commitment and sacrifice that has been so consistently shown by our fantastic Mojave family".

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

The tragedy spurred critics of space tourism who have deemed such projects irresponsibly risky.

It has taken Virgin Galactic a while to get this point.

The flight was the fourth rocket-powered test mission of VSS Unity, which Virgin Galactic officially unveiled in February 2016.

The company says roughly 600 people have reserved tickets costing between $200,000 and $250,000. Some have waited over a decade for their shot.

"Safety's all that matters if you're putting people into space", he said.

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