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Billionaires Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic Company climbed to 170,800 feet – about 32.3 miles – and hit 2.47 times the speed of sound on Thursday in the company's third successful rocket flight
The company says the test flight was the first time that the VSS Unity aircraft reached a layer of atmosphere called the mesosphere, which is about 31
Virgin Galactic, calling itself the "world's first commercial spaceway," designed the VSS Unity to carry two pilots and six passengers into space to experience weightlessness for a few minutes.
The Unity is initially carried by the larger VMS Eve aircraft. Both aircraft reached 46,500 feet on Thursday before the Unity had a "clean clearance" and the pilots "set the rocket engine of the spaceship on fire before making a nearly vertical climb to the black sky at 2.47 times the speed of sound ascend "according to The Spaceship Company, a subsidiary of Virgin Galactic.
After reaching the planned altitude, the company says the unit is slipping and landing without propulsion. It landed safely on Thursday in a facility in Mojave, California.
It was the 14th flight of the unit overall and the third with its own rocket force in four months. According to Space.com, "since its first test flight on 8 September 2016, VSS Unity has completed seven" captive-carry "flights – in which it remains connected to the VMS Eve – and completed seven non-powered flight test flights."
VSS Unity is the second version of a model called SpaceShipTwo: SS2-02. SpaceShipTwo, version one – SS2-01 – named VSS Enterprise, failed and collapsed during a test flight in October 2014, causing the co-driver to be dead and the other pilot severely injured.
(If you're wondering what happened to SpaceShipOne, the company says it's just a proof-of-concept demonstration.)
The National Transportation Safety Board said in 2015, that the mistake was due to human error – that the co-driver, Michael Alsbury, pulled a lever too early.
The test flight Thursday also gathered measurements in the cabin during the flight, including temperature, pressure, humidity, radiation, acoustics and more
Branson told Bloomberg on Wednesday that about 800 people are already spending $ 250,000 on a tourist ticket in space and he hopes to be able to offer rides this year. "Before the end of the year, I hope to sit in a Virgin Galactic spaceship and go into space," Branson said.