Virgin Galactic — the space tourism company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson — has returned its supersonic plane to the edge of space for the first time since 2021, when Branson made his own journey toward the cosmos, Jackie Wattles reported for CNN Business.
Photo Insert: Virgin Galactic confirmed just before 12:30 p.m. ET that VSS Unity successfully completed the blast toward space.
The company’s space plane, VSS Unity, carried two pilots and a crew of four Virgin Galactic employees on the Thursday test flight, which took off from a runway in New Mexico around 11:15 a.m. ET, according to Virgin Galactic’s Twitter account.
The rocket-powered plane is designed to ride to about 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) above Earth’s surface while attached beneath the wing of a massive, twin-fuselage mothership, dubbed “Eve” by the company.
The space plane then detaches from the mothership, fires its rocket engine, and swoops straight up with its two pilots at the controls.
Virgin Galactic confirmed just before 12:30 p.m. ET that VSS Unity successfully completed the blast toward space. The spaceplane then coasted back to a landing at New Mexico’s Spaceport America.
Flights are designed to reach more than 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) above Earth, into altitudes the US government recognizes as the boundary of outer space.
At the peak of the flight, passengers are expected to have experienced a few minutes of weightlessness and could peer out the plane’s windows at Earth’s curved horizon and the blackness of outer space. From takeoff to landing, the missions typically last under two hours.