Virgin Galactic spaceship reaches altitude of 51 miles during successful test flight

Cristina Cross
December 19, 2018

Speaking minutes after Virgin Galactic successfully propelled its Unity spacecraft into space, at an altitude of more than 51 miles, he said the test flight was just a taste of things to come.

His endeavour, Virgin Galactic, made a successful trial flight on December 13, 2018, with its rocket spaceship.

He continued: "We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test programme which will see the rocket motor burn for longer, and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and with the comsos".

However you measure it, though, the flight represents a triumph for Virgin Galactic - and a stark change from just over four years ago, when the company grabbed headlines for a very different, altogether tragic reason.

"We saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled". Perhaps the most common definition of space is the Karman Line, which is about 62 miles (100 km) above sea level. This test flight is the closest yet to mimicking the flight path the company's spacecraft are expected to take one day for commercial missions.

A large crowd of staff and their families along with the select media outlets witnessed the launch of the VSS Unity which reached speeds of "almost three times the speed of sound".

Not only is this the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011, but the very first time that a crewed vehicle built for commercial, passenger service, has reached space. After a few earlier setbacks in Virgin Galactic's space programme, the plane managed to surpass the altitude at which U.S. agencies have awarded astronaut wings.

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Sir Richard Branson celebrate Virgin Galactic's first spaceflight. It will be the first pair of wings awarded to VSS Unity's pilot in command, Mark "Forger" Stucky, a former Marine and test pilot for NASA and the US Air Force.

Virgin Galactic has been hungry for cash since Richard Branson announced he would no longer accept a $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia.

Stucky, beaming from an outdoor stage near the runway after returning from the test flight, said he'd been waiting for the moment "for decades".

The company is squared up to compete directly with Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos in 2000 to offer suborbital tourism flights. CSF President Eric Stallmer said the "commercial space industry will create unprecedented opportunities for space tourism and democratize space for all". Tickets cost $250,000 per flight.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides noted that recent research favours the lower altitude.

The company is now building two more spaceships in anticipation of the price coming down and more people signing up to fly.

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