Sir Richard Branson 'wins space race' after successful Virgin Galactic flight

  • Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke

Sir Richard Branson joked he has won the commercial race to space following the successful flight of his tourist plane.

Virgin Galactic became the first commercial craft to reach the edge of space in an historic test flight on Thursday which could move the dream of space tourism closer to a reality.

The British entrepreneur applauded and cheered as SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity touched back down at the Mojave test centre in California.

The view from the rocket at space altitude. Credit: Virgin Galactic

The aircraft reached an altitude of 271,268ft as it made its rapid ascent into space and clocked up a velocity equivalent to 2.9 times the speed of sound.

In completing the mission, SpaceShipTwo flew higher than 50 miles, widely considered to be the boundary of space.

Many of the crowd embraced and cried as the rocket plane made its landing.

Speaking to ITV News, Sir Richard said the successful flight had brought "tears of joy and relief".

"Building a spaceship company is hard and we've had 14 long years to get to this point," he said.

Sir Richard's success may be seen in some quarters as a victory over fellow entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who are also pursuing forms of space travel.

"Anybody who starts by saying they don't see it as a race, if they actually end up winning they normally say it was a race!" Sir Richard joked.

"So today I'll say it was a race and we were the first."

The rocket blasts its way to 271,268ft. Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic's development of its commercial spaceline has taken longer than expected.

It hit a major setback in 2014 when the first experimental craft broke apart during a test flight, killing the co-pilot.

Over 600 people from more than 50 countries have reserved their places, at $250,000 dollars (£200,000) a seat, on the six-passenger rocket.

The spacecraft was named by the late Professor Stephen Hawking and the renowned physicist's iris features on the side of the craft.

Test pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Rick "CJ" Sturckow are due to take the controls.

The craft travelled at 2.9 times the speed of sound. Credit: AP