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Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, posing with a model of VSS Unity on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in October 2019. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, completed its third rocket-powered flight into space on Saturday after taking off from New Mexico, the company announced.

Why it matters: The flight is a step toward the company being able to offer commercial trips to suborbital space.

How it works: Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spacecraft was ferried into the air by its mothership, VMS Eve.

  • Unity, which had two pilots onboard, achieved a speed of Mach 3 — three times the speed of sound — and reached space at an altitude of 55.45 miles after being released from its mothership.
  • It glided back into the atmosphere before making a runway landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
  • The flight carried NASA research experiments, collected data for verification reports that are required by the FAA for its commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license and tested recent upgrades to the spaceship’s stabilizers and flight controls.

What they're saying: "The crew experienced extraordinary views of the bright, blue-rimmed curvature of the earth against the blackness of space," the company said. "New Mexico’s White Sands National Park sparkled brilliantly below."

  • "Their experience today gives Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronaut customers a glimpse of what lies ahead."

The big picture: Virgin Galactic hopes to begin commercial flights next year after downtime for maintenance and additional tests, including one that will carry Branson into space, according to AP.

  • Jeff Bezos' space company, Blue Origin, which also aims to offer commercial spaceflights, plans to launch its first crewed flight on July 20.

Go deeper: The suborbital space race heats up

Go deeper

Naomi Osaka eliminated from Olympic tennis tournament in Tokyo

Czech 42nd-ranked Marketa Vondrousova (L) shakes hands with Japan's Naomi Osaka after their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women's singles third round tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on Tuesday. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images

Naomi Osaka was eliminated from the Olympics after losing her Tokyo tennis tournament match 6-1, 6-4 in the third round to Czech Marketa Vondrousova on Tuesday.

Of note: Japan's Osaka is the women's world No. 2, while is Vondrousova ranked No.42.

Drought pushes 2 major U.S. lakes to historic lows

Kayakers at a boat launch ramp Page, Arizona, on July 3, which was made unusable by record low water levels at Lake Powell as the drought continues to worsen near. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Two significant U.S. lakes, one of which is a major reservoir, are experiencing historic lows amid a drought that scientists have linked to climate change.

What's happening: Lake Powell, the second largest reservoir in the U.S., has fallen 3,554 feet in elevation, leaving the crucial reservoir on the Colorado River, at 33% capacity — the lowest since it was filled over half a century ago, new U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data shows.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

North and South Korea restart hotline and pledge to improve ties

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 2018. Photo: Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool/Getty Images

North and South Korea's leaders have pledged to improve relations and resume previously suspended communication channels between the two countries.

Why it matters: The resumption of the hotline on Tuesday comes despite stalled negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang on the denuclearization of North Korea, which broke down after a second summit between then-President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended without a deal in 2019.