As predicted, Virgin Galactic's supersonic plane VSS Unity took off for a test flight on Thursday, touching the edge of space before safely returning to Earth.
The test flight took off from the Mojave Air & Space Port in California, taking two passengers into the upper boundaries of Earth's atmosphere. The plane spent several minutes in space before returning safely on Earth.
"We made it to space," Enrico Palermo, president of The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic's manufacturing partner, said while addressing a crowd of cheering spectators at space port in California.
It was Unity's fourth powered test flight and the first since July. It was also the first time since the retiring of the U.S. Space Shuttle in 2011 that humans took off from the American soil to go into space.
Once the mothership Eve reached an altitude of about 13,110 metres (43,000 feet), it released the space plane VSS Unity in the sky. The pilots, Frederick Sturckow and Mark Stucky, then burned the rocket motor for 60 seconds to climb upwards at speeds about three times the speed of the sound.
Unity reached a height of 82.7 km, before reentering into the Earth's atmosphere at supersonic speeds. Finally, the plane glided back to the Mojave spaceport for a smooth landing.
According to The BBC, the plane carried with it a mannequin named Annie and four NASA experiments.
"Today we have shown Virgin Galactic can open space to the world," Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement after the landing.
"We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test programme, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher."
The success of Unity's test flight means Virgin Galactic is now very close to taking its first paying tourist into space, a goal that the company has been working toward since 2004. Branson is currently in a race with SpaceX's Elon Musk and Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos to be the first to carry private tourists to space.
Virgin Galactic's space plane is designed to carry two pilots and six passengers on a trip to space. The company is charging £190,000 for a 90-minute flight which will offer space tourists an opportunity to enjoy the breathtaking view of the curvature of Earth while flying more than 82 kilometres above the Earth's surface and also experience zero gravity conditions for a few minutes.
Virgin says more than 600 people have already booked a seat for an eventual space voyage.
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