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Virgin Galactic takes another leap towards space tourism

SpaceShipTwo rocket plane soars above Earth on a successful test flight to the edge of space

The VSS Unity rocket ship and VMS Eve over Spaceport America, New Mexico. Photograph: AP
Virgin Galactic has performed its third voyage to the edge of space using the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. This flight, which took place on 22 May, was the first to take off from the company’s Spaceport America facility in New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic’s system comprises two parts: the rocket ship VSS Unity and the carrier aircraft VMS Eve. Together, they travelled to an altitude of about 9.5 miles (50,000ft). Eve then released Unity, which ignited its rocket. During Saturday’s flight Unity achieved a speed of mach 3 that boosted it to an altitude of 55.4 miles.

Depending on which definition you use, space begins somewhere between 50 and 76 miles above the surface of the Earth. Piloted by CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, this test flight is another step towards SpaceShipTwo being granted a commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s licence by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Once achieved, Virgin Galactic’s ambition is to carry commercial passengers to the edge of space. Saturday’s flight was the first time a human reached space from New Mexico, making it the third US state to achieve this milestone. The two previous Virgin Galactic spaceflights launched from the Mojave Air and Space Port, California, while Nasa launches astronauts from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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