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Virgin Galactic spaceship makes 1st powered flight

Published: Monday, April 29 2013 10:54 a.m. MDT

Sir Richard Branson poses for the photographers in the window of a replica of the Virgin Galactic, which according to the company will be the world’s first commercial spaceline, at the Farnborough International Airshow in Farnborough, England, Wednesday,  July 11, 2012. Branson also revealed a plan to launch small satellites into space at a tenth of the current cost.  (Lefteris Pitarakis, Associated Press) Sir Richard Branson poses for the photographers in the window of a replica of the Virgin Galactic, which according to the company will be the world’s first commercial spaceline, at the Farnborough International Airshow in Farnborough, England, Wednesday, July 11, 2012. Branson also revealed a plan to launch small satellites into space at a tenth of the current cost. (Lefteris Pitarakis, Associated Press)

MOJAVE, Calif. — Virgin Galactic's passenger spaceship has made its first powered test flight.

SpaceShipTwo fired its rocket engine early Monday after being released from a jet-powered mothership over California's Mojave Desert.

The rocket firing lasted 16 seconds and the spaceship then descended and landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port.

The flight did not involve a trip to space. Virgin Galactic says it's ramping up to go beyond the atmosphere later this year and begin passenger flights shortly afterward.

SpaceShipTwo is the commercial version of SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first private manned rocket to reach space.

More than 500 aspiring space tourists have paid $200,000 or plunked down deposits for a chance to experience several minutes of weightlessness.

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