Richard Branson’s commercial spaceflight company Virgin Galactic successfully conducted a Thursday morning test flight of its rocket-powered SpaceShipTwo space plane, which touched the edges of space before returning safely to Earth after the flight. The landmark flight gives a boost to Virgin Galactic’s space tourism ambitions.
SpaceShipTwo, dubbed VSS Unity, was on board Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo aircraft before separating and taking off under its own power. The winged spaceship reached 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) above the surface of Earth and achieved a speed of Mach 2.9. The rocket motor burned for 60 seconds.
The VSS Unity carried four NASA-sponsored experiments on board, including a vibration-isolation platform and an experiment that simulates how the dusty surface of an asteroid reacts to an impact in microgravity.
Virgin Galactic intends to eventually take space tourists on flights. Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline founded by Sir Richard Branson and owned by the Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS (Abu Dhabi).