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Virgin Galactic completes final test flight ahead of taking paying customers

Virgin Galactic on 25 May completed its final test flight ahead of taking paying customers on brief trips to space and with this, the space tourism firm as a ‘fantastic achievement’ in what has been a long road to commercial operations.

The firm’s six staff — including two pilots, landed at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico after the short up-and-down flight. As per details, the mothership took about an hour to carry the spaceplane to an altitude of 44,500 feet (13,563 meters), where it was released and fired its rocket motor to make the final push.

“Successful boost, WE HAVE REACHED SPACE!” Virgin Galactic tweeted.

Before gliding back down to the runway, the flight reached an altitude of 54.2 miles (87 kilometers), said the firm.

Sharing her experience, company’s internal communications lead Jamila Gilbert said, “It was just this magnetic pull. Once I started looking out, I could feel that I was floating. I could hear voices. But I couldn’t stop looking at the planet, and I couldn’t look away.”

Other crew member Christopher Huie, an aerospace engineer, said, “You’re just waiting for the rocket to light. And I think that moment had so much anticipation, and I could have lived in that moment forever.”

The flight came nearly two years after founder Richard Branson beat fellow billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and rocket company Blue Origin into space. Earlier, federal aviation authorities banned Virgin Galactic launches after Branson’s flight to investigate a mishap.

Virgin Galactic has been working for more than a decade to send paying passengers on short space hops and in 2021 finally won the federal government’s approval.

About 800 tickets have been sold over the past decade, with the initial batch going for $200,000 each. Tickets now cost $450,000 per person.

Since 2018, Virgin Galactic has reached space five times, and will be aiming for 400 flights per year from Spaceport America once it finishes building its next class of rocket-powered planes at a facility in neighboring Arizona.

With agency inputs.

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