Virgin Galactic launches high-stakes flight carrying passengers to the edge of space

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Virgin Galactic — the space tourism company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson — has returned its supersonic plane to the edge of space for the first time since 2021, when Branson made his own venture toward the cosmos.

Virgin Galactic — the space tourism company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson — has returned its supersonic plane to the edge of space for the first time since 2021, when Branson made his own journey toward the cosmos. The company’s space plane, VSS Unity, carried two pilots and a crew of four Virgin Galactic employees on the Thursday test flight, which took off from a runway in New Mexico around 11:15 a.m. ET, according to Virgin Galactic’s Twitter account. The rocket-powered plane is designed to ride to about 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) above Earth’s surface while attached beneath the wing of a massive, twin-fuselage mothership, dubbed “Eve” by the company. The space plane is designed to then detach from the mothership, fire its rocket engine and swoop straight up with its two pilots at the controls. Virgin Galactic confirmed just before 12:30 p.m. ET that VSS Unity successfully completed the blast toward space. The space plane then coasted back to a landing back at New Mexico’s Spaceport America. Flights are designed to reach more than 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) above Earth, into altitudes the United States government recognizes as the boundary of outer space. At the peak of the flight, passengers are expected to have experienced a few minutes of weightlessness and could peer out the plane’s windows at Earth’s curved horizon and the blackness of outer space. From takeoff to landing, the missions typically last under two hours. Company officials hope this will be the final test run before Virgin Galactic can open up rides to paying customers in late June —after years of promises, missed deadlines, and Branson selling off a huge chunk of his original stake in the company. However, if the test flight encountered major issues on Thursday, the problems could throw Virgin Galactic’s future into question or lead to more lengthy delays. The company has been here before. Virgin Galactic had appeared poised to begin commercial operations after it launched Branson to the edge of space alongside three crewmates in July 2021, a flight that came less than two weeks before Branson’s rival Jeff Bezos conducted his own flight to the edge of space. Branson denied he had been racing with Bezos. But the US Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses commercial rocket launches, later opened an investigation into Branson’s flight when it was revealed that the space plane veered off course during the high-profile flight. The six people on Thursday’s test mission includes pilots CJ Sturckow and Mike Masucci, as well as Virgin Galactic employees Jamila Gilbert, a New Mexican native who works in the company’s internal communications; Chris Hume, a flight sciences engineer and the son of Jamaican immigrants; Luke Mays, an astronaut instructor and former NASA employee; and Beth Moses, the company’s head of astronaut training, who has joined two prior flights..Copied!.space tourism.space plane from the air using its carrier plane, the Virgin Mother Ship Eve. Here’s when and how the mission will take place..

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