"SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space," the company tweeted during live coverage of the flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The space claim is a bit of a gray area.
SpaceShipTwo, named the VSS Unity, hitched a ride on Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo aircraft before separating and taking off under its own power. The winged spaceship reached 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) above the surface of Earth and achieved a speed of Mach 2.9. The rocket motor burned for 60 seconds.
NASA says space starts at roughly 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, but SpaceShipTwo's pilots likely experienced microgravity during the journey.
Virgin Galactic can argue in favor of its claim to reaching space. The US Air Force awards astronaut wings to pilots who top the 50-mile mark.
The VSS Unity carried four NASA-sponsored experiments on board, including a vibration-isolation platform and an experiment that simulates how the dusty surface of an asteroid reacts to an impact in microgravity.
Virgin Galactic intends to eventually take space tourists on flights.he hopes to be one of the first passengers to go for a ride.
Thursday's test flight gives Virgin Galactic a step up in the private space-tourism race. Elon Musk's SpaceX has ambitious plans toand Jeff Bezos' , but both rival companies have yet to carry humans into space.
NASA tweeted its congratulations to Virgin Galactic for "successfully flying to suborbital space."
First published Dec. 13 at 8:46 a.m. PT.
Update at 9:58 a.m. PT: Added NASA congratulations and background on space tourism.