Published Dec 13, 2018 at 5:48 AM | Updated at 9:59 AM PST on Dec 13, 2018
When it comes to sending rockets into space, most missions begin on a launch pad on the ground. But a spaceship designed to transport tourists to space is using a different method to reach lofty heights.
More than 600 people have committed up to $250,000 for rides in the six-passenger Virgin Space Ship Unity, which is about the size of an executive jet and undergoing tests in Southern California's Mojave Desert.
The spaceship isn't launched from the ground. It's carried by an unusual looking plane to an altitude around 50,000 feet, at which point it is released to rely on its rocket engine for a near-vertical climb. The rocket is then shut down and Unity coasts to the top of its climb.
As for its descent, the craft is slowed by "feathering" technology -- twin tails temporarily rotate upward to increase drag, then return to a normal flying configuration before the craft glides to a landing on a runway.
The project began in 2004 when Sir Richard Branson announced the founding of Virgin Galactic.