Virgin Galactic completes third successful spaceflight

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Virgin Galactic, one of several companies hoping to take rich tourists to space, completed its third successful test flight Saturday.

The company’s space plane, VSS Unity, reached 55.45 miles above Earth’s surface and was piloted by veteran astronauts C.J. Sturckow and Dave Mackay, Virgin Galactic said in a press release.

VSS Unity was carried into the atmosphere by a larger craft, called VMS Eve, before detaching and rocketing to space.

Saturday’s flight was the first to succeed from Virgin Galactic’s glitzy Spaceport America in New Mexico, about 100 miles north of El Paso in the Chihuahuan Desert. New Mexico is now the third U.S. state to host a successful spaceflight.

Virgin Galactic previously held successful test flights in December 2018 and February 2019, launched from Mojave Air and Space Port in south-central California. The first test flight from Spaceport America was aborted in December 2020 after VSS Unity’s engines didn’t fire.

Owned by British billionaire Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic plans to run routine flights from Spaceport America to outer space and says 600 people have already paid at least $200,000 for the journey.

The United States, and therefore Virgin Galactic, technically have a different definition of “outer space” than the rest of the world. The U.S. considers 50 miles above the Earth’s surface to be space, but the international line is at 62 miles. Virgin Galactic’s flights are supposed to take place in between the two markers.

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