Virgin's SpaceShipTwo reaches space for first time

Virgin Galactic could soon reach space for the first time

Virgin Galactic could soon reach space for the first time

"There's so much that can be achieved for Earth by really opening space up and we want to be in the forefront of that and we will never give up", said Virgin CEO Richard Branson.

The rocket burnt for 60 seconds before being shut down, leaving the craft to coast to the top of its climb, reaching an altitude of 51.38 miles. During the flight, the two men were able to experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet, the company said.

Though it just scratched the lowest edge of where many believe space begins, the launch had huge implications for a growing industry aiming to fly civilians on a regular basis. Between bad weather, mechanical troubles and adjustments, and ensuring that its safety pilots are not put in unnecessary danger.

Virgin Galactic was founded by British billionaire Richard Branson in 2004 in the hope of becoming the first company to send paying customers to space.

The flight marked the first time astronauts have launched from US soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

However it will fall short of crossing the Karman line, which at 100 kilometres high, represents the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space. This amount has also gone up from the initial $200,000 charged before 2013, and is likely to increase after the first 1,000 people have made the journey. Then at 43,000 feet - more than 8 miles high - its pilots commanded the plane's release and switched on VSS Unity's rocket engine to drive the vehicle directly upward at supersonic speeds.

As for VSS Unity itself, Virgin Galactic confirmed at 16:14 UTC that the spacecraft had landed safely at Mojave Airport, a little over 10 minutes after touching space. It has also earned the plane's pilots, Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow, commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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"And then we will be in space with myself in months and not years", he continued.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, flew higher than it ever has before on Thursday, surpassing what the US Air Force considers the boundary of space, and marking the first manned flight to space from US soil since 2011.

SpaceShipTwo, named the VSS Unity, hitched a ride on Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo aircraft before separating and taking off under its own power. Today's mission, in fact, featured four NASA-sponsored research payloads - the first ones to make it aboard SpaceShipTwo via the agency's Flight Opportunities Program.

For Branson, the launch was the culmination of years' worth of lofty dreams and tragic setbacks as he sought to build what he calls "the world's first commercial spaceline".

Branson said he has invested almost US$1 billion of his own money into the venture.

When asked about Virgin Galactic's competitors in a recent interview with CNN Business, Branson said it was not a "race".

Branson had initially said that the company could start sending people into space from as early as 2007 but the deadline has repeatedly been postponed due to technical difficulties.

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