Virgin Galactic has reached suborbital space for the first time

Branson

Virgin Galactic says its tourism spaceship has climbed more than 80 kilometres high, which the company considers the boundary of space.

Virgin's VSS Unity suborbital spaceliner reached a maximum altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) during a rocket-powered test flight over California's Mojave Desert today (Dec. 13) after firing its hybrid rocket motor for 60 seconds, company representatives said.

Sir Richard is in a race with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to send the first fee-paying passengers into space.

The two test pilots- Mark "Forger" Stucky and former NASA astronaut Rick "CJ" Sturckow - will be awarded commercial astronaut wings, said Federal Aviation Administration official Bailey Edwards.

VSS Unity
VSS Unity the Virgin Galactic space craft is hoped to be piloted into space for the first time on Thursday

But Whitesides cited new research that favors the lower altitude and said that as a US company it will use the USA standard.

Virgin Galactic considers 80 kilometres to be the boundary of space because it is used by the US air force and other USA agencies. Attached to that ship will be the VSS Unity spacecraft, which will be released 43,000 feet in the air and will soar as many as five miles above the Earth's surface - touching the edge of space.

That day can not come soon enough for Mercury 13 candidate Wally Funk, who booked her flight on Branson's dream machine back in 2012 and at 79 might finally get a chance to go to space.

As of October, Virgin Galactic was "more than tantalizingly close" to leaving Earth's atmosphere, according to Richard Branson. "The real limitation we're shooting for is an altitude", said Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, in a briefing with reporters here December 12. That said, the lower altitude of VSS Unity also provides an opportunity for research, serving the dual-purpose of science and recreation.

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"Our team's biggest priority is to use meticulous planning and preparation to ensure that stages are dealt with safety, and that every outcome informs and improves future performance", Virgin Galactic continued.

Ultimately, the company aims to carry paying passengers on its spaceship, which is created to carry six people in addition to two pilots. "Then I plan to go up into space", he said, noting he looks forward to that next year and is "very, very excited".

The company hasn't set a schedule for beginning commercial flights of SpaceShipTwo from New Mexico's Spaceport America, but is laying the groundwork for increased commercial operations.

New versions of SpaceShipTwo are built by a Virgin Galactic sister company and flight testing is now in-house.

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VSS Unity, a SpaceShipTwo-class space plane, takes in the view.

"We also plan to burn the rocket motor for durations which will see our pilots and spaceship reach a space altitude for the first time".

It performed powered test flights in April and May.

Thursday's test flight had two pilots onboard, four NASA research payloads, and a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in passenger.

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