By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent
UK businessman Sir Richard Branson is connected his mode to fulfilling a lifetime's ambition: flying to the borderline of space.
His Virgin Galactic rocket level has taken disconnected for a 1.5-hour ngo which volition spot it scope an altitude wherever the entity turns achromatic and the Earth's skyline curves distant into the distance.
The entrepreneur says helium wants to measure the acquisition earlier allowing paying customers aboard adjacent year.
The ngo supra New Mexico began soon aft 08:30 EST (15:30 BST).
Virgin Galactic is providing an online stream of the event.
It's been a agelong roadworthy for Sir Richard to get to this point. He archetypal announced his volition to marque a abstraction level successful 2004, with the anticipation he'd person a commercialized work disposable by 2007.
But method difficulties, including a fatal crash during a improvement formation successful 2014, person made the abstraction task 1 of the astir challenging ventures of his career.
"I've wanted to spell to abstraction since I was a kid, and I privation to alteration hopefully hundreds of thousands of different radical implicit the adjacent 100 years to beryllium capable to spell to space," Sir Richard told the BBC.
"And wherefore shouldn't they spell to space? Space is extraordinary; the Universe is magnificent. I privation radical to beryllium capable to look backmost astatine our beauteous Earth and travel location and enactment precise hard to effort to bash magic to it to look aft it."
How does his rocket level work?
The vehicle, known arsenic Unity, volition beryllium carried by a overmuch bigger aeroplane to an altitude of astir 15km (50,000ft), wherever it volition beryllium released.
A rocket centrifugal successful the backmost of Unity volition past ignite and blast the vessel skyward. The centrifugal volition pain for 60 seconds, by which clip Sir Richard, his 3 crewmates and the 2 pilots up front, volition person a singular presumption of the satellite below.
The maximum tallness achievable by Unity is astir 90km (55 miles, oregon 295,000ft), but towards the apical of the ascent Sir Richard volition commencement to bask a fewer minutes of weightlessness and he'll beryllium capable to interval astir the compartment and to look retired of the window.
Eventually, though, he'll person to strap backmost into his spot for the glide instrumentality to the spaceport successful New Mexico.
What volition helium spot from the window?
Sir Richard volition beryllium taking acquisition passim the formation from Beth Moses. She's the main astronaut teacher astatine the businessman's Virgin Galactic company. Apart from the firm's cadre of trial pilots, Moses is the lone idiosyncratic who's truthful acold experienced the exhilaration of an ascent. The presumption retired of the window, she says, is "just phenomenal".
"Pictures don't bash it justice. It's conscionable truthful agleam and beautiful. I saw the ocean, and halfway up the US and halfway down into Mexico. I saw the greenish of the onshore and the achromatic snow-capped mountains," she told BBC News.
"Because you are weightless and still, and the vessel has travel to a stop, you tin conscionable soak it in, successful a truly timeless way. It stuck successful my soul."
Who is Sir Richard's competition?
Unity is simply a sub-orbital vehicle. This means it can't execute the velocity and altitude indispensable to support it up successful abstraction to ellipse the globe.
The lone different near-market sub-orbital strategy belongs to Amazon.com founder, Jeff Bezos. He has a rocket and capsule helium calls New Shepard, and helium volition alert connected its inaugural crewed formation connected 20 July.
But portion Sir Richard has a enactment of immoderate 600 individuals who've already paid deposits for tickets priced astatine up to $250,000 (£180,000), Mr Bezos has said small yet astir however helium intends to commercialise New Shepard.
Is the contention friendly?
Sir Richard says helium has spoken to Jeff Bezos connected the telephone and they person wished each different good successful their abstraction endeavours. But determination is nary doubting determination is immoderate borderline successful the relationship.
On Friday, Mr Bezos's Blue Origin abstraction company issued a tweet that took a popular astatine Virgin Galactic's Unity vehicle. The posting repeated a assertion that anyone who flew connected the rocket level would everlastingly person an asterisk by their sanction due to the fact that they wouldn't scope the "internationally recognised" altitude for wherever abstraction begins - the alleged Kármán line of 100km.
The tweet besides said Unity's impacts connected the situation were acold greater than New Shepard's. Virgin Galactic told the BBC that the c footprint of flying successful Unity is equivalent to a concern formation from London to New York, but that each the company's activities are offset.
From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to alert supra the Kármán enactment truthful nary of our astronauts person an asterisk adjacent to their name. For 96% of the world’s population, abstraction begins 100 km up astatine the internationally recognized Kármán line. pic.twitter.com/QRoufBIrUJ— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 9, 2021
The BBC is not liable for the contented of outer sites.View archetypal tweet connected Twitter
The US authorities recognises the bound of abstraction to beryllium astatine astir 80km (50 miles) and awards astronaut wings to anyone who exceeds this altitude.