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MOJAVE, Calif. — With a first flight to the edge of space under the company's belt, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson believes commercial flights of SpaceShipTwo could begin some time next year.
An exuberant Branson took the stage at the Mojave Air and Space Port here to congratulate the company and its employees for a successful test flight Dec. 13 of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle named VSS Unity, which reached a peak altitude of 82.7 kilometers. The flight was the first by the vehicle to cross the boundary of 50 miles, or approximately 80 kilometers, that U.S. government agencies use to award astronaut wings.
Offstage - Branson - Group - Reporters - Tears
Offstage, a more subdued Branson, huddling with a group of reporters, said he shed "tears of relief" after the successful flight. "When you are in the test flight program of a space company, you can never be completely, 100 percent sure, because that's what a test flight program is," he said. "The spaceship was tested to its limits today and she performed just as we wished and we just couldn't be happier."
This flight does not mark the end of the test flight program for SpaceShipTwo. "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," he said onstage.
Dec - Test - Flight - SpaceShipTwo - Rocket
On the Dec. 13 test flight, SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket motor burned for 60 seconds, several seconds longer than the high end of estimates of the burn time company officials gave at a briefing the day before. George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said after this flight that a full-duration burn would last approximately five seconds longer.
Branson was optimistic that the next test flight could take place in the near future after a review of data from this flight. "If nothing...
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