Virgin Galactic Hits Space Goal in Step Toward Tourist Trips

Virgin Galactic Hits Space Goal in Step Toward Tourist Trips

Foto: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft hit a milestone in its quest to fly tourists off planet, according to Bloomberg. It rose more than 51 miles (82 kilometers) and breached Earth’s atmosphere for the first time.

The brief voyage marked the first human flight to the boundary of space by a commercial space operator. It also underscored the rebound from a fatal 2014 accident by the space tourism venture founded by British entrepreneur Richard Branson.

Virgin’s VSS Unity had a 60-second rocket burn on its fourth test flight. That sent the vehicle to an altitude of 271,268 feet (83 kilometers), above the 50-mile mark where the U.S. Air Force and other agencies define the edge of space. Another often-cited boundary is 62 miles (100 km), the so-called Karman line.

“What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the 21st century’s defining industries,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in a statement. “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.”

The VSS Unity is dropped from a carrier aircraft at about 50,000 feet, at which point its rocket ignites and propels the vehicle on a vertical tear into the cosmos. At some point the company plans to fly customers who have paid as much as $500,000 for the thrill ride. Virgin Galactic plans about three additional test flights before shifting to its spaceport in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Branson himself hopes to soar to space next year, the billionaire said in an interview.

After that, the spaceflights will be open to the first of the 700-or so paying customers, Branson said. They would experience weightlessness and peer at the curvature of the Earth, based on Virgin’s video of today’s flight. The company also plans to restart marketing of the rides, which had been halted in the aftermath of the 2014 crash that killed a test pilot. Branson envisions a fleet of Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo craft like the VSS Unity operating so frequently that costs fall to the point where space travel is widely affordable.

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