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Virgin Galactic Rocket Plane Soars to Edge of Space

December 13, 2018

A tourism spaceship soared to the edge of space Thursday, the first U.S. commercial flight to achieve the feat since the U.S. shuttle program ended in 2011.

The Virgin Galactic rocket plane, developed by British billionaire Richard Branson, climbed more than 80 kilometers above Earth, which the company considers the boundary of space.

The test flight signals a new age of civilian space travel, with Virgin Galactic competing with other ventures such as Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Virgin's carrier airplane holding the VSS Unity spaceliner took off early Thursday from the Mojave Air and Space Port, about 145 kilometers north of Los Angeles, California. It returned to Earth minutes later.

After the spaceliner and its two test pilots topped an altitude of 80 kilometers, a crying Branson hugged and high-fived some of the hundreds of spectators who gathered in the California desert to witness the launch.

The test flight comes four years after Virgin Galactic's original spaceliner crashed, killing the co-pilot and seriously injuring the pilot.

"We've had our challenges and to finally get to the point where we are at least within range of space altitude is a major deal for our team," said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whiteside.

Virgin Galactic is spaceflight company within the London-based Virgin Group.

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