Virgin Galactic's tourism rocket ship completes first journey to space

Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson with pilots Frederick Sturckow (left) and Mark Stucky. Image: PA

Friday, December 14, 2018

Sir Richard Branson's spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, has successfully launched a tourism rocket plane into space for the first time.

The SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity aircraft was taken 43,000ft into the air by a carrier plane, and went on to reach an altitute of 271,268ft at a speed almost three times the speed of sound.

It reached space at around 50 minutes after take-off, and made a successful landing back at the Mojave test centre in California, with the help of pilots Mark Stucky and Nasa astronaut Frederick Sturckow.

The SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity. Image: PA

Six hundred people have already paid to take a 90-minute trip to space on the rocket ship, with tickets costing $250,000 each.

Sixty-three-year-old Sir Richard said he aimed for the first commercial space flight with passengers to take place next year, and said he wanted to be among the first to make the trip.

The test flight. Image: MarsScientific.com/Trumbull Studios/PA 

Addressing a crowd who had gathered to watch the launch, the billionaire businessman said: "Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space.

"Today we completed our first revenue-generating flight and created two new astronauts - well, one of them was already an astronaut but you know what I mean.

"Today we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good."