Richard Branson's spaceflight company this week revealed the window for its next powered test flight of VSS Unity opens on December 13.
Virgin Galactic says its tourism spaceship has climbed more than 50 miles high, which the company considers the boundary of space.
When asked about Virgin Galactic's competitors in a recent interview with CNN Business, Branson said it was not a "race". Attached to that ship will be the VSS Unity spacecraft, which will be released 43,000 feet in the air and will soar as many as five miles above the Earth's surface - touching the edge of space. "That's 2.9 times the speed of sound".
Virgin's billionaire founder Sir Richard cried, high-fived and hugged spectators, as hundreds of the firm's employees and family members watched the launch.
Virgin's latest flight test comes four years after the original SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight that killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot, dealing a major setback to Virgin Galactic, a USA offshoot of the London-based Virgin Group.
"Our team's biggest priority is to use meticulous planning and preparation to ensure that stages are dealt with safety, and that every outcome informs and improves future performance", Virgin Galactic continued.
New versions of SpaceShipTwo are built by a Virgin Galactic sister company and flight testing is now in-house. "At this altitude, a conventional plane would need to reach orbital velocity or risk falling back to Earth". The FAA announced that pilots Mark Stucky and C.J Sturckow will be receiving FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings.
Virgin Galactic considers that altitude to be the threshold of space because it's defined that way by the Air Force and other US agencies, although others have long considered the boundary to be higher.
Passengers will float in zero-gravity for several minutes, before coming back to Earth.
When Branson licensed the SpaceShipOne technology, he envisioned a fleet carrying paying passengers by 2007, launching them from a facility in southern New Mexico called Spaceport America.
Branson said after Thursday's test he aims to launch the company's first space flight with passengers - including himself - by March 2019.
"Incremental flight test programs are by definition open-ended and, to a great extent, each test depends on the data from the test that precedes it", the company said.
The company planned to burn the rockets for about 50 seconds, not to their full capacity but enough to send the spacecraft and its two pilots to the edge of space.
Virgin Galactic's first experimental spacecraft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot. Today's mission, in fact, featured four NASA-sponsored research payloads - the first ones to make it aboard SpaceShipTwo via the agency's Flight Opportunities Program.