Virgin Galactic completed its third flight to the edge of space as it gears up to accept space tourists next year

SpaceShipTwo test flight may
VSS Unity at the edge of space during the May 22 flight. Virgin Galactic
  • Virgin Galactic completed its third flight to the edge of space on Saturday.
  • Richard Branson’s space company aims to fly paying tourists to suborbital space starting in 2022.
  • Shares of Virgin Galactic jumped following the successful test.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic successfully completed its third crewed flight to the edge of space on Saturday following a botched attempt in December.

The company’s VSS Unity, a rocket-powered plane, soared to an altitude of 89km and reached a speed of Mach 3 before coasting to a runway at its headquarters in New Mexico, the company said.

Shares of Virgin Galactic jumped more than 20% in early trading on Monday.

During Saturday’s flight, Virgin ran a handful of tests, including assessments of flight controls, stabilizers, and in-cabin cameras. It also carried scientific experiments as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.

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The flight is a key milestone in Virgin Galactic’s plans to fly tourists to suborbital space starting in 2022, and it plans three more tests before accepting commercial customers.

VSS Unity on its May test flight.
VSS Unity after detaching from its mothership during a May 22 test flight. Virgin Galactic

The company said it already has some 600 customers who have paid $200,000-$250,000 for a seat. Virgin’s space tourists will undergo training before flying to the edge of space, where they will experience several minutes of weightlessness before gliding back to Earth.

But Virgin has faced numerous setbacks since its founding in 2004. One of its SpaceShipTwo vehicles was obliterated during a test flight in 2014, killing a pilot. In December, a scheduled test of VSS Unity was called off after the vehicle’s rocket engines failed to ignite.

Virgin Galactic hopes to eventually launch 400 flights per year from Spaceport America in New Mexico and may expand into other lines of business like speedy transcontinental travel. It recently unveiled the first of its next-generation SpaceShip III vehicles.