Virgin Galactic’s space plane, VSS Unity, has returned to the edge of space for the first time since 2021, carrying two pilots and four Virgin Galactic employees on a test flight. The rocket-powered plane is designed to detach from the mothership, fire its rocket engine and reach more than 50 miles above Earth’s surface, into altitudes recognized as the boundary of outer space. The company hopes this will be the final test run before opening up rides to paying customers in late June. The flight lasted under two hours and passengers are expected to experience a few minutes of weightlessness.
CNN Business — Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, has successfully completed a test flight for its supersonic plane, VSS Unity, marking its return to the edge of space for the first time since 2021 when Branson made his own journey towards the cosmos.
The test flight, which took off from a runway in New Mexico, was carried out by two pilots and four Virgin Galactic employees. The space plane, attached beneath the wing of a massive, twin-fuselage mothership called “Eve,” is designed to ride to about 50,000 feet above Earth’s surface before detaching from the mothership and firing its rocket engine to swoop straight up with its two pilots at the controls.
The rocket-powered plane is designed to reach more than 50 miles 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 experience a few minutes of weightlessness and can 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.
Virgin Galactic confirmed just before 12:30 p.m. ET that VSS Unity successfully completed the blast towards space and coasted back to a landing at New Mexico’s Spaceport America. Company officials hope this will be the final test run before Virgin Galactic can open up rides to paying customers in late June.
Virgin Galactic has had its fair share of setbacks, with years of promises and missed deadlines, and Branson selling off a huge chunk of his original stake in the company. However, the successful test flight is a positive step towards the company’s goal of making space tourism accessible to the public.
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