Virgin Galactic has reached the edge of space for the first time, in a milestone accomplishment for Richard Branson’s space tourism endeavors.
The aerospace firm’s SpaceShipTwo craft reached a boundary more than 50 miles above Earth on Thursday morning after blasting off on a critical flight test in the Mojave Desert.
To do this, the company had to push its rocket motor to the longest burn duration yet, ‘resulting in us going higher than we have before.’
Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo mothership took off shortly after 10 a.m. (ET) from the Mojave airstrip carrying SpaceShipTwo.
The passenger craft began its acceleration toward the space boundary at 11 a.m., after separating from WhiteKnightTwo, and pilots burned its rocket motors for 60 seconds to bring the craft to a final altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers).
In addition to its pilots, the aircraft carried NASA payloads for the first time, in effort to bring it as close as possible to commercial weight.
SpaceShipTwo safely touched back down to Earth less than 15 minutes after achieving its highest flight yet and hitting speeds of nearly three times the speed of sound.
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