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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

Aug 17, 2021 - Science
How It Happened

Introducing How it Happened Season Two: The Next Astronauts

In How it Happened: The Next Astronauts, Axios space reporter Miriam Kramer follows the first space flight to orbit without professional astronauts.

Kramer will take listeners inside the story of the Inspiration4 mission, which SpaceX aims to launch on Sept. 15.

Updated 28 mins ago - World

Biden cleans up comments about Russia invading Ukraine

Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden sought to clarify his suggestion that a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine may not draw the same response as a large invasion, telling reporters Thursday that "Russia will pay a heavy price" if any troops cross the border.

Why it matters: Some officials in Kyiv saw Biden's comments as inviting Russian aggression.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
40 mins ago - Health

Study finds bias against Black patients written into medical charts

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Black patients were more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white patients to have negative descriptors about them in their electronic health record, according to a study published Wednesday in Health Affairs.

Why it matters: The study is further evidence of bias in the U.S. health care system, which can ultimately result in worse care and disparately poor outcomes.