Virgin Galactic aces final test flight to space, commercial services to begin

© Provided by India Today Virgin Galactic aces final test flight to space, commercial services to begin

Nearly two years after it went into hibernation, Virgin Galactic's spaceplane roared into the skies on its final test flight to suborbital space carrying a crew of six.

This was the first spaceflight test in nearly two years as the space tourism firm founded by Richard Branson prepares its long-awaited commercial service. The company described it as a "fantastic achievement" in what has been a long road to commercial operations.

Six of the company's employees, including two pilots, landed at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico after a short up-and-down flight that included a few minutes of weightlessness.

The company's VSS Unity spaceplane dropped from its twin-fuselage carrier aircraft around 9:54 pm over the desert of New Mexico and blasted off to the edge of space seconds later at roughly three times the speed of sound. It took about an hour for the mother ship to carry the spaceplane to an altitude of 44,500 feet before it was released.

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"Successful boost, WE HAVE REACHED SPACE!" Virgin Galactic tweeted. The spacecraft reached an altitude of 87 kilometers before gliding back down to the runway, according to the company. While space begin after crossing the Karmal Line, nearly 100 kilometers above Earth, the Virgin galactic flight touched suborbital space.

A live video stream from private video news group NASA Spaceflight showed VSS Unity jetting away from its carrier craft, its sole rocket engine leaving a trail of white exhaust. The spaceplane glided back to land minutes later, Virgin Galactic said.

Jamila Gilbert, who grew up in southern New Mexico and leads the company's internal communications, was among those on board who were evaluating what it will be like for paying customers. "It was just this magnetic pull," she said in an interview. "Once I started looking out, I could feel that I was floating. I could hear voices. But I couldn't stop looking at the planet, and I couldn't look away."

The company's Unity 25 mission, lasting roughly 90 minutes in all, is a crucial final test flight before it flies its first commercial mission in late June, hoping to carry out a mission roughly every month thereafter.

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The flight comes 22 months after billionaire Branson and employees rode to the edge of space aboard its centerpiece SpaceShipTwo spaceplane. A safety probe into Branson's flight by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration delayed the plans of commercial operations as did a lengthy spacecraft upgrade period that lasted longer than Virgin Galactic anticipated.

Virgin Galactic has been working for more than a decade to send paying passengers on short space hops and in 2021 finally won the federal government's approval.

The next step will be for Virgin Galactic to analyze data from Thursday's flight and inspect the planes and other equipment as the company prepares for commercial service, possibly as soon as late June.

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