First images of Virgin Galactic's successful space plane test flight

SpaceShipTwo and White Knight Two ascending through the desert sky this morning

SpaceShipTwo and White Knight Two ascending through the desert sky this morning

Virgin founder Richard Branson said last year he hoped to begin commercial launches this year, but the company has not revealed any schedule details and it's not yet clear when paying customers might get off the ground.

According to CNBC and a tweet from Virgin Galactic at 9:05 a.m., the spaceplane, dubbed SpaceShipTwo Unity, was carried high above the Mojave desert by its mothership WhiteKnightTwo, where it was released.

Even after its rocket engine had cut off, Unity continued to coast upwards, reaching an estimated apogee of some 84,271 feet (25,685 meters).

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Eventually, the company aims to conduct full-up tests to send Unity and its pilots to the edge of outer space, at altitudes that could range from 50 miles to 62 miles (100 kilometers) and beyond.

Screen captures of the Virgin Galactic flight video of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity's successful supersonic, rocket-powered flight. This unique design feature, which is key to a reliable and repeatable re-entry capability for a winged vehicle, incorporates the additional safety mechanisms adopted after the 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight accident. The carrier jet, piloted by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile, climbed to an altitude of around 46,500 feet (about 14,200 meters) over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

An investigation later determined that the accident occurred because Alsbury unlocked Enterprise's "feathering" descent system too early.

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Over 700 guests, including celebrities Katy Perry and Brad Pitt, have already reserved a seat on one of Virgin Galactic's first flights for a cost of $250,000 (£200,000) a seat. Images are courtesy of Virgin Galactic. Unlike the last time in 2014, however, the test was a success and the VSS Unity managed to complete it first supersonic flight. Data review to come, then on to the next flight.

Virgin Galactic's first commercial flights are planned for the end of next year, and Branson's plans have been boosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's intentions to invest $1 billion in the company. "While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead", the company stated in a release issued after the flight.

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