Space tourism is "tantalisingly close" for Sir Richard Branson after Virgin Galactic's successful supersonic rocket-powered flight

Rebecca Smith
Branson has long had his sights set on space tourism

Sir Richard Branson has said space is "tantalisingly close" for the entrepreneur, after Virgin Galactic's successful test of its new space tourism rocket yesterday.

Virgin Galactic said the spaceship called Unity successfully wrapped up its first supersonic, rocket-powered flight.

After two years of "extensive ground and atmospheric testing", the step signals the start of the final part of Unity's test flight programme.

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Unity is the first vehicle to be built from scratch for Virgin Galactic by its sister organisation The Spaceship Company's team of aerospace engineers and technicians.

It was carried by its mothership and released over California's Mojave Desert. The spacecraft then achieved supersonic speed before pilots shut down the engine and it returned to Mojave Air and Space Port.

Virgin Galactic said:

The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing.

It also marks a key moment for the test flight program, entering now the exciting phase of powered flight and the expansion to full duration rocket burns.

While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead.

It was a big milestone for the firm as it marked Virgin Galactic's first powered flight since the 2014 crash of its original spaceship, where one of its two pilots died.

Branson tweeted that the company was now "back on track" after the successful powered flight. A data review is next on the cards, before another flight will be carried out.