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Virgin Galactic's tourism rocket flies higher than 50 miles to edge of space

Image from the flight deck of Virgin Galactic's spaceship during the test flight
The flight deck of the VSS Unity spacecraft during the test flight on Dec. 13, 2018. Credit: Virgin Galactic.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has successfully launched its VSS Unity space tourism rocketship to the edge of space, just beyond 50 miles above the surface of the Earth.

Why it matters: Virgin Galactic officials hope that this test will be a turning point in making commercial space tourism a reality. About 600 people have already doled out $250,000 to ride in the rocket and a get a view of Earth from above.

Yes, but: Virgin Galactic has had its fair share of trouble launching test flights. According to the AP, Branson hoped to have paying passengers take tours to the edge of space by 2007, but three technicians were killed that year by an explosion while testing a propellant system. And in 2014, the company's SpaceShipTwo broke apart during a test flight, killing the co-pilot.

  • Prior to Thursday's test, officials warned that there were "an array of reasons why it could end short of its goal or be aborted altogether,” per AP.

Details: The spaceship was carried by a plane to about 50,000 feet, where it then detached from the plane, ignited its rocket, and began its ascent.

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