The plane returned safely to Earth after the test. Source: NPR

The idea of commercial space travel has gained a lot of momentum over the last few years. There are quite a number of companies involved in this industry and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is one of the front-runners. On Thursday morning, the company completed a successful flight test of its rocket-powered SpaceShipTwo space plane that could transport people into space soon. The plane returned safely on Earth after the test.

Virgin Galactic appeared quite confident on the tests through a tweet sent on Thursday. “SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space,” the tweet read after a full live coverage of the flight right from takeoff to landing. The plane took off attached to another plane called the WhiteKnightTwo before it disembarked during the flight to continue with its own power. The winged aircraft would then be able to reach over 51.4 miles above the surface of the Earth. According to NASA, space starts at least 62 miles from the Earth’s surface. Although SpaceShipTwo pilots weren’t able to hit this threshold, it’s a clear indication that the progress made so far is quite huge. It’s also very likely that the plane experienced microgravity during the journey.

The goal is to make it possible for people to travel to space as tourists. Source: Japan Times

The ultimate goal for Virgin Galactic is to make it possible for people to travel to space as tourists. The company’s CEO Richard Branson has noted already that he’s looking forward to becoming the first person to take the flight. However, the company is not the only one that’s hoping to offer the option for space tourism in the near future. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is also building a spacecraft that when complete will be capable of taking people to and from space. SpaceX has even more ambitious plans of taking people around the moon.

However, so far there hasn’t been any concrete development that may suggest this will happen anytime soon. SpaceX has managed to build a number of advanced rockets that can easily support deep space travel. On the other hand, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos is also among the key people looking to make a mark in this industry. His company Blue Origin is already testing a few rockets.

The test made huge progress for the industry. Source: Radio

Despite the progress, there hasn’t been any company that has managed to conduct tests with humans on board or reach the true depths of space with people. This would be a very challenging task because permutations about how low or zero gravity affects people will need to be done before any commercial flight into space starts.

This was the fourth test flight for Virgin Galactic. The company said that the goal has always been to make sure that the spacecraft is able to fly higher and faster in every test. So far it seems this has already been realized. It’s not clear how soon we will be able to fly people into space in commercial flights. While companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are working hard to be ready, there’s still a long way to go. But the latest test from Virgin is good news for this industry. The hope is that future tests will bring us closer and closer to commercial space travel.