Virgin Galactic still performs the highest, fastest test flight yet

VSS unit, Virgin Galactic's rocket-powered aircraft, climbed to a record height of nearly 56 miles during a test flight on Friday, and marks the second time Richard Branson's launch has reached space. Two pilots, and for the first time, an additional crew member, were on board.

Beth Moses, galactic chief astronaut trainer and a spacecraft engineer, rode with pilots. The tour allowed her to run security checks and get a first look at what Galactic's customers might experience one day.

Moses has logged hundreds of hours on zero gravity aircraft, and she described G Forces aboard supersonic aircraft as "mildly wild." Some moments were intense, she told CNN Business, but it was never unpleasant.
Unity took off from a runway in California's Mojave Desert just after 8pm PT and cruised to about 45,000 feet attached to his mother's ship before it broke and kicked its rocket engine. The aircraft then swooped into the upper part of the atmosphere, 295,000 meters high, with supersonic speeds. It was top speed was Mach 3 .

On top of its flight route, Unity experienced a few minutes of weightlessness and looked out into the cosmos's black sky. Moses said she was able to leave her seat and take the view

"The earth was beautiful – super sharp, super-clear," she said, "with a beautiful view of the Pacific."

Unit landed back in Mojave about an hour after start.

The test plane followed Galactic's historic first mission to space in December. The back-to-back successes indicate that Galactic could be on track to start flying tourists this year.

The company's founder, British billionaire Richard Branson, has said he expects to board a Unity flight in July.

But it is not clear how many more test runs Galactic will fly before it is comfortable to pay customers on board. The company has said it still has "a way to go in testing the many factors that can affect an aircraft."

About 600 people have reserved tickets, priced between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000, to fly with Galactic.

New Adventure Tourism

Galactic is neck and neck with main competitor Jeff Bezos Blue Origin.

19659002] Companies have each spent more than a decade developing space tour technology. Both companies say they aim to open the business once a year. And both also insist that they do not race, but put "safety first."

But that does not mean that they are not competitive.

Bezos took a jab on Galactic in an interview with Space News on Thursday suggesting that Galactic's customers would be "astronauts with a star".

He referred to the fact that Blue Origin is planning to send passengers off the Karman line, which is 62 miles above Earth and internationally recognized as the boundary of space. Galactic, however, is focused on the 50-mile mark used in the United States.

"We have always wanted our mission to fly over the Karman line because we didn't want any stars next to your name on whether or not you're an astronaut," Bezos said. "There is something [Virgin Galactic is] that will address, in my opinion."

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