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Virgin Galactic just brought human spaceflight back to American soil after a seven-year hiatus, and other private companies are poised to make some giant leaps of their own.
Virgin's VSS Unity suborbital spaceliner soared to a maximum altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) during a rocket-powered test flight over California's Mojave Desert yesterday (Dec. 13).
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"Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good," Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson said in a postflight statement yesterday.
Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceliner captured this view of Earth against the blackness of space during its fourth rocket-powered test flight, which took place on Dec. 13, 2018.
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"We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos," he added. "This is a momentous day, and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration."
VSS Unity is designed to carry six passengers, two pilots and scientific experiments on brief trips to suborbital space. Virgin Galactic is selling seats on the vehicle for $250,000 apiece.
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Yesterday's flight carried no passengers, just pilot Mark Stucky and co-pilot Frederick "C.J." Sturckow. But, given the mission's success, the first commercial flights of VSS Unity may be coming quite soon. And don't be surprised if another company officially gets into the space-tourism business at about the same time as Virgin.
Blue Origin, the spaceflight company run by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is developing its own reusable suborbital system called New Shepard, which has already aced multiple uncrewed test...
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