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Virgin Galactic Advances With Latest Test Mission

The company completed a trip from New Mexico, helping it move forward in the FAA approval process needed to eventually become a commercial program.
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Virgin Galactic  (SPCE) - Get Virgin Galactic Report over the weekend finished its first space flight from Spaceport America, New Mexico -- and marked its third successful trip outside the planet Earth.

The mission pushed Virgin closer to its goal of becoming a commercial space flight company, and helped it gain valuable test data. It also helped advance the company in its pursuit of a federal commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license.

“Today’s flight showcased the inherent elegance and safety of our spaceflight system, while marking a major step forward for both Virgin Galactic and human spaceflight in New Mexico," said Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, in a statement.

As part of the mission, the Virgin spacecraft, the VSS Unity, on Saturday flew free from its "mothership," the VMS Eve, and entered space at an altitude of 55.45 miles, according to Virgin.

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Aboard the Unity were astronauts C.J. Sturckow, Dave Mackay; Kelly Latimer and Michael Masucci, piloted Eve. 

The company will now process the data gained from the successful test flight as it prepares its next trip. The data will also be used for needed "verification reports" required as part of the Federal Aviation Administration's commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license program.

The trip was the 400th FAA-licensed launch to safely leave Earth, wrote the FAA's head, Steve Dickson on Twitter, touting the safety record.

“Fifteen years ago, New Mexico embarked on a journey to create the world’s first commercial spaceport,’’ said Richard Branson founder of the Virgin Group. ‘’Today, we launched the first human spaceflight from that very same place, marking an important milestone for both Virgin Galactic and New Mexico. I am proud of the team for their hard work and grateful to the people of New Mexico who have been unwavering in their commitment for commercial spaceflight from day one. Their belief and support have made today’s historic achievement possible.”

This story has been updated.