Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has successfully rocketed to space and back.
The firm, which aims to be the world’s first commercial ‘spaceline’, flew its SpaceShipTwo, complete with Virgin tailfin, to a height of 82.7km – beyond the altitude at which space is said to begin.
It was the craft’s fourth test flight and comes ten years after Virgin Galactic first promised sub-orbital spaceflight trips for tourists “within 18 months” back in 2008.
Virgin Galactic had competed with billionaire and Paypal founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) December 13, 2018
Delays and a fatal crash in 2014 prevented Sir Richard’s original ambitions.
However, passenger rocket ship SpaceShipTwo took off yesterday from the Mojave Desert in California in the US with two pilots on board. Virgin Galactic said its motor burned for a minute, travelling at 2.9 times the speed of sound.
It did not breach the 100km Karman Line, known as the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard said: “Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally. Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder. We started Virgin nearly 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge.
“Today, as I stood among a truly remarkable group of people with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled. It was an indescribable feeling: joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come.
“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. We completed our first revenue generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings. We have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good.
“We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test programme, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos.
“This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.”
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, added: “What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century’s defining industries.
“Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine.
“New enterprises are being created which will become hugely valuable, while enabling humanity to better manage some of its greatest future challenges.
“Today was a remarkable achievement brought about by the skill, dedication and support of our shareholders, staff, customers, partners and many other stakeholders. We extend our congratulations and thanks to each and every one of them.”
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