Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic successfully sends four people to space trends now
Billionaire Richard Branson is back in the space race.
Virgin Galactic, owned by Branson, completed what is expected to be its final test flight Thursday before taking paying customers on brief trips to space.
The company's twin-fuselage VMS Eve carrier plane took off from Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America site around 11:15 am ET with a crew of four company employees.
The VSS Unity spaceplane hung 54.2 miles above Earth's surface for three minutes, allowing the space tourists to experience weightlessness for the first time.
Federal aviation authorities banned Virgin Galactic launches after Branson's maiden flight in 2021 led to an investigation after it veered off course during its descent back to its runway in the New Mexico desert.
The VSS Unity spaceplane hung 54.2 miles above Earth's surface for three minutes, allowing the space tourists to experience weightlessness for the first time
The four-person crew, all Virgin Galactic staff, spent three minutes in weightlessness
Unlike other companies that use vertical-launch rockets, Virgin Galactic uses a carrier aircraft with two pilots who take off from a runway, gain high altitude, and drop a rocket-powered plane that soars into space before gliding back to Earth.
The carrier plane launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico, carrying the spaceplane under its belly that then released at an altitude of 44,500 feet and shot off toward space.
VSS Unity then fired its engine and climbed about 262,000 feet – the altitude recognized as the edge of space.
'Successful boost, WE HAVE REACHED SPACE!' Virgin Galactic tweeted Thursday.
The total journey time is 90 minutes, with passengers experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness in the space plane's cabin before returning to Earth at 12:37 pm ET.
The company's Unity 25 mission is a crucial final test flight before it flies its first commercial mission in late June, hoping to carry out a mission roughly every month after that.
The flight comes 22 months after billionaire Branson and employees rode to the edge of space aboard its centerpiece SpaceShipTwo spaceplane.
Virgin Galactic had hoped that a high-profile mission would open the door to routine flights soon after but experienced a mishap when