Branson celebrates as rocket plane reaches space and returns home safe

Gwen Vasquez
December 17, 2018

Branson told reporters Thursday that "by being successful today, we hope to bring in one or two other investors". Today we completed our first revenue generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings.

"We will soon start on the fourth and the fifth spaceships".

Both the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) congratulated Virgin Galactic after its successful test flight. A fatal test flight in 2014 slowed the program further.

The brief, suborbital flight - with two pilots on board - was a key milestone for the company headed by British tycoon Richard Branson, who is striving to send tourists to space at a cost of US$250,000 per seat.

The test flight started at 10 AM local time, and it was all over by 11:15 AM when VSS Unity landed on its Mojave airstrip.

The endeavour began in 2004 when Branson announced the founding of Virgin Galactic in the heady days after the flights of SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed manned spacecraft that made three flights into space. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) is the worldwide body that determines aviation and space records.

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Branson pointed out that Virgin Holidays in particular would suffer because the pound taking a hit would result in less people being able to afford to go overseas due to a poor currency exchange. The U.S. Air Force and NASA consider pilots that have flown above 80 kilometers to be astronauts. A number of X-15 pilots were awarded astronaut wings for their flights in the 1960s for crossing that threshold. Automated systems instantly separated the crew capsule from the disintegrating rocket and boosted it to an altitude where it could descend under parachute nearly as though it was returning from orbit.

Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos, also plans to fly tourists, though to a higher altitude and with a rocket that launches vertically, not a spaceplane. This procedure, which is a first of its kind, ultimately saves fuel and money, according to Virgin Galactic launch officials. While this measurement for the edge of space is still up for debate, many authorities are considering it to be the actual distance to the line between space and the Earth's atmosphere.

If one accepts that VSS Unity reached space today, it is the first time an American-built spaceship was launched from American soil since the final space shuttle flight, STS-135, in July 2011.

Since then, the world's space agencies have relied on Russian Soyuz rockets to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.

The company is now building two more spaceships in anticipation of the price coming down and more people signing up to fly. Test flights are scheduled for next year. "This day is as much for them as it is for all of us".

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