Commercial space tourism becoming a reality? Virgin Galactic sends rocket to edge of space

2018-12-14 07:30
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Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has geared up and finally sent its rocket ship to the edge of space.

The successful flight is a major step toward the long-delayed dream of commercial space tourism.

The next test flight happened on Thursday with the rocket-powered spacecraft soaring high above California's Mojave Desert.

This May 29, 2018 photo provided by Virgin GalactiIn this photo provided by Virgin Galactic, the VSS Unity is released from the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft during a gliding test for SpaceShipTwo near Mojave, Calif. The spaceship isn’t launched from the ground but is carried beneath the special aircraft to an altitude around 15 240 metres. There, it’s released before igniting its rocket engine and climbing. (Photo: Virgin Galactic via AP)

Development of the Virgin Galactic spaceship took far longer than expected and endured a setback when the first one broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot. A company statement says the next test flights aim to "reach a space altitude for the first time."

Hundreds of people have signed up to pay as much as $250 000 (roughly R3,524 million at $1/R14,10) for a supersonic thrill ride on the six-passenger spaceship.

SEE: Virgin Galactic brings space tourism closer to reality with third rocket powered test flight

Two test pilots flew the craft early Thursday above the Mojave Desert at an altitude of more than 80.4 kilometres, which it regards as the boundary of space.

CEO George Whitesides says that's the standard used by the Air Force and other US agencies.

That differs from a long-held view that places the boundary at 99.8 kilometres. But Whitesides says Virgin Galactic is a US company and will use the US standard.

Virgin Galactic has been eager to reach space after years of developing its space tourism rocket.

In a statement on the Virgin Galactic website prior to the flight, the company said that "Overall the goal of this flight is to fly higher and faster than previous flights. We plan to burn the rocket motor for longer than we ever have in flight before, but not to its full duration...If all goes to plan our pilots will experience an extended period of micro-gravity as VSS Unity coasts to apogee, although – being pilots – they will remain securely strapped in throughout. They should also have some pretty spectacular views which we look forward to sharing as soon as possible post flight. We are at a stage now in our testing program where we want to start simulating the commercial weight distribution in the spaceship represented by our future passengers."  

This May 29, 2018 photo provided by Virgin GalactiThis photo provided by Virgin Galactic shows the VSS Unity craft during a supersonic flight test. (Photo: Virgin Galactic via AP)

SEE: 'Good chance you will die': Elon Musk on Mars mission and other space travel updates

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