Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reaches space for 1st time in historic test flight

By Mike Wall
December 13, 2018, 2:34:04 PM EST

For the first time ever, Virgin Galactic has reached space — by one definition, anyway.

Virgin's VSS Unity suborbital spaceliner reached a maximum altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) during a rocket-powered test flight over California's Mojave Desert today (Dec. 13) after firing its hybrid rocket motor for 60 seconds, company representatives said.

That's above the 50-mile (80 km) boundary that NASA and the United States Air Force use when handing out astronaut wings, but below the more famous "Karman Line" at 62 miles (100 km) up. The Karman Line is perhaps more commonly accepted; for example, it was the target altitude for the Ansari X Prize, which offered $10 million to the first private team to launch a reusable crewed craft to space twice within a two-week span.

virgin galactic

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity suborbital spaceliner touches down at Mojave Air and Space Port on Dec. 13, 2018, after a rocket-powered test flight that achieved a maximum altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers).Credit: Virgin Galactic via Twitter

That prize was collected in October 2004 by the group behind SpaceShipOne, whose design Virgin Galactic adapted for VSS Unity and its other piloted, six-passenger spaceliners (which are collectively termed SpaceShipTwo vehicles).

"SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space," Virgin Galactic representatives said via Twitter during today's flight.

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