Virgin's twin-fuselage carrier airplane holding the SpaceShipTwo passenger spacecraft took off soon after 7 a.m. local time (10 a.m. ET) from the Mojave Air and Space Port, about 90 miles (145 km) north of Los Angeles.
On October 31, 2014, Virgin suffered a crippling setback with the death of co-pilot Mike Alsubry and injury of pilot Peter Siebold when a predecessor craft crashed due to a combination of human error and an engineering flaw.
Ultimately, the company aims to carry paying passengers on its spaceship, which is created to carry six people in addition to two pilots. It has also earned the plane's pilots, Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow, commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration. That said, the lower altitude of VSS Unity also provides an opportunity for research, serving the dual-purpose of science and recreation.
That differs from a long-held view that places the boundary at 62 miles. The plane reentered the atmosphere at 2.5 times the speed of sound and landed a few minutes later. The spacecraft with two test pilots at the controls quickly hurtled upward and out of sight from viewers on the ground.
"The FAA is committed to helping ensure commercial space transportation grows safely".
Fourteen years after the company's founding, it's finally made it to space-just.
If this test flight in Mojave, California is successful, the two pilots on board will experience an extended period of micro-gravity but "will be strapped in throughout".
Virgin Galactic tourism rocket ship reaches space for first time
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.
Virgin Galactic has almost 700 people who have paid as much as US$250,000 for its suborbital joyrides - more than the 560 or so people who have ever been to space.
"People have literally put their lives on the line to get us here".
"It was a great flight and I can't wait to do it again", said Mr Sturckow, who flew on the space shuttle four times. "This day is as much for them as it is for all of us".
"SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space", Virgin Galactic tweeted. The rocket is shut down and the craft coasts to the top of its climb - and then begins a descent slowed and stabilized by unique "feathering" technology. Three technicians were killed in 2007 by an explosion while testing a propellant system at Scaled Composites LLC, which built SpaceShipOne and was building the first SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic. "When you are in the test flight program of a space company you can never be completely 100 percent sure".
SpaceX, the company owned by Elon Musk, is focused on carrying equipment for Nasa's programmes - although they do hope to take a Japanese billionaire around the moon by 2023.