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Virgin Galactic Takes Crew of 3 to Altitude of 55 Miles

SpaceShipTwo, built by British billionaire Richard Branson to carry tourists into space.

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The SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity passenger craft makes its final approach for a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, Feb. 22, 2019. VOA

Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft reached an altitude of more than 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) on Friday, carrying for the first time a passenger in addition to its two pilots.

SpaceShipTwo, built by British billionaire Richard Branson to carry tourists into space, launched from California’s Mojave desert and flew to an altitude of 55.87 miles (89.9 kms), the company said.

The US definition of space is anything over an altitude of 50 miles. The Virgin craft made it past that for the first time in December, reaching an altitude of 50.9 miles.

Branson announced with great fanfare at the time that it was the first time since NASA ended its space shuttle program in 2011 that an American vessel had carried humans into space.

However, the Virgin craft still has not crossed the internationally accepted boundary between Earth’s outer atmosphere and space, known as the Karman Line, which is set at an altitude of 62 miles (100 kms).

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Virgin Galactic rocket plane, the WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane, with SpaceShipTwo passenger craft takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, Feb. 22, 2019. VOA

“SpaceShipTwo, welcome back to space,” wrote Virgin Galactic as it Tweeted updates throughout the event, without sending out any live footage.

The spacecraft travelled at a speed of Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound in its ascent, and landed without incident at the Mojave spaceport.

It is designed to carry six passengers, but test flights are years behind schedule in large part because of an accident that killed a test pilot in 2014.

Branson told AFP earlier this month that he hoped the test flights would be far enough ahead by July that he would be able to join a flight.

For the first time Friday, the flight carried a passenger, Virgin Galactic’s Beth Moses, who will be in charge of training the company’s future space tourists.

To take off from the ground, SpaceShipTwo is carried by another larger plane, WhiteKnightTwo, which resembles a combination of two airplanes attached by their wing tips.

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The SpaceShipTwo passenger craft rockets away from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane above Mojave, California, Feb. 22, 2019. VOA

When it is high enough, it releases the spaceship which then fires up its own rocket engine and ascends for roughly a minute into space.

At the apogee, its passengers float in zero-gravity for several minutes. It then descends and glides back to the landing strip.

Branson’s main rival is Blue Origin, created by billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Bezos told an audience in New York this week that his New Shepard suborbital vehicle would start flying people later this year and to a greater altitude than SpaceShipTwo.

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“One of the issues that Virgin Galactic will have to address, eventually, is that they are not flying above the Karman Line, not yet,” Bezos said, quoted by Space News.

New Shepard has already flown above the Karman Line, but not with people on board. (VOA)

Next Story

Virgin Galactic to be World’s First Publicly Traded Company

The company announced the completion of the merger on Friday

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Virgin Galactic revealed the arrangement with Social Capital Hedosophia in July. Wikimedia Commons

Richard Branson’s commercial human spaceflight venture Virgin Galactic is set to become the world’s first publicly traded company next week following the completion of its merger with venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social Capital Hedosophia.

The resulting company is named Virgin Galactic Holdings (VGH) and its common stock, units and warrants are expected to commence trading on the New York Stock Exchange on October 28.

Virgin Galactic revealed the arrangement with Social Capital Hedosophia in July. The company announced the completion of the merger on Friday.

Virgin Galactic already has customer reservations from more than 600 people in 60 countries representing approximately $80 million in total collected deposits, and over $120 million of potential revenue.

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The resulting company is named Virgin Galactic Holdings (VGH) and its common stock, units and warrants are expected to commence trading on the New York Stock Exchange on October 28. Wikimedia Commons

“Today is the start of a new era for the human spaceflight industry. VG has already pioneered several important space milestones, including sending the first test passenger to space onboard a commercial vehicle, and today’s announcement is no different,” George Whitesides, Cheif Executive Officer (CEO) at Virgin Galactic Holdings, said in a statement.

“Now that VG is a publicly traded firm, anyone can invest in a human spaceflight company that is striving to truly transform the market and be part of the excitement of the commercial space industry,” Whitesides said.

As a result of this transaction, Virgin Galactic has received over $450 million of primary proceeds and at market close on Friday, the business has a market capitalisation of $2.3 billion.

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Virgin Galactic earlier this month unveiled the spacesuits its paying passengers will wear on space tourism, which are expected to commence in 2020. (IANS)