Richard Branson and three other passengers and two crew members set out to spend a few minutes in space, a trip that will hopefully encourage the emerging space tourism.
The plane took off at about 08:40 local time (1440 GMT) from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The plane flew for about 50 minutes before it released the vehicle below it, which would run its own engine until it reached space. The plane later landed quite successfully.
Branson has promoted the mission as the start of a new era of space tourism, as the company he founded prepares to start commercial operations next year.
The launch of the Unity VSS high-altitude missile aircraft on Sunday marks the 22nd test flight of the company’s SpaceShipTwo system, and its fourth manned mission outside the Earth’s atmosphere. It is also the first flight to carry a full group of space travelers, two pilots and four professionals, including Branson.
Although the mission is seen as a potential milestone in helping to turn citizen space travel into a big business, spaceflight remains fraught with danger.
Virgin Galactic first reached space in 2018, repeating that feat in 2019 and again last May, each time with a minimal crew, receiving permission from the Federal Aviation Administration last month to begin flying with customers.
Jeff Bezos, founder of the giant Amazon, is scheduled to travel to space later this month.
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