Wednesday 26 June 2019

It's Virgin territory - a step closer to space trips

Virgin Galactic handout photo of the view from the cockpit during the successful test flight of SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity. Photo: Virgin Galactic/PA Wire
Virgin Galactic handout photo of the view from the cockpit during the successful test flight of SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity. Photo: Virgin Galactic/PA Wire

Harriet Alexander in Mojave Space Port

Virgin Galactic has successfully sent its test pilots into space, marking a major milestone in the race for commercial space travel and sparking emotional scenes among those back down on Earth.

Richard Branson, watching with his son Sam, admitted he shed more than a few tears as the space craft flew to 51.4 miles (82.7km).

The flight marks the first time man has reached space from US soil since the end of Nasa's space shuttle programme in 2011.

"This was the milestone that we've been aiming at for 14 years," Mr Branson said. "It was the culmination of a lot of work."

Shortly after 7am, the VSS unity climbed 43,000ft aboard the mothership. Then the Unity was released, accelerating rapidly and then turning to shoot almost vertically into the sky for 60 seconds, travelling at 2.9 times the speed of sound to reach maximum height.

Virgin Galactic is yet to set a date for its first commercial passengers, but it is expected to be next year.

The team plans three more test flights from the California site, before moving to New Mexico to base themselves at the spaceport, where passengers will eventually depart.

More than 700 people have signed up so far, paying $250,000 (€220,000) for the privilege - among them Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber.

Irish Independent

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