British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic became first US commercial human flight to reach edge of space and returned safely to the California desert.
The test flight will bring upon a new era of civilian space travel. The fight is tough for being the the first to offer suborbital flights to fare-paying tourists. Virgin Galactic has competition with other ventures such as Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin,
The carrier airplane hauled the SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket plane to an altitude of about 13.7 kms and released it. Seconds later, SpaceShipTwo fired, catapulting it to more than 82 km above Earth, high enough for the pilots, Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow, to experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet.
“Today we have shown Virgin Galactic can open space to the world,” Branson said, adding he aimed for a commercial space flight with passengers, including himself by March 2019.
Virgin’s latest flight test comes four years after the original SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight that killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot, dealing a major setback to Virgin Galactic, a US offshoot of the London-based Virgin Group.
“We’ve had our challenges, and to finally get to the point where we are at least within range of space altitude is a major deal for our team,” George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic’s chief executive, told reporters during a facilities tour on Wednesday in Mojave, where workers could be seen making pre-flight inspections of the rocket plane.
Thursday’s test flight had two pilots onboard, four Nasa research payloads, and a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in passenger.
More than 600 people have paid or put down deposits to fly aboard Virgin’s suborbital missions, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop star Justin Bieber.
A 90-minute flight costs $250,000