(Washington) A spacecraft from space tourism company Virgin Galactic reached space Thursday for the first time in nearly two years, the company founded by billionaire Richard Branson announced.

This flight, which is the fifth for the company to cross the frontier of space, was the ultimate test before the start of commercial operations.

Now announced for the end of June, these have been expected for years, and around 800 customers have already purchased their tickets.

Virgin Galactic’s space program suffered years of delays, in part due to an accident in 2014 that killed a pilot.

Then, after the space flight having transported the Briton Richard Branson himself in July 2021, the company announced a break, dedicated to improving its machine. This lasted much longer than originally planned.

Thursday, the mission named Unity 25 took place from the base of Spaceport America, in the desert of New Mexico (southwest).

The crew consisted of Virgin Galactic employees.

“Watching our beautiful planet from up there, something so few humans have been able to do, was a solemn experience, which filled me with humility and wonder,” said one, Christopher Huie, quoted in a company statement.

“As one of the first twenty black people to go into space, I hope I can inspire the next generation of astronauts,” he added.

A huge carrier plane, named VMS EVE, took off at 9:15 a.m. local time (11:15 a.m. Eastern) from a conventional runway, with two pilots at the controls. Then he dropped the ship, called VSS Unity, which looks like a large private jet, at altitude. On board: four passengers, and again two pilots.

The machine then turned on its engine until it exceeded 87 kilometers in altitude (according to the American army, the definition of space is 80 km).

The spacecraft then glided back down, before landing on the runway, like a conventional aircraft, at 10:37 a.m. local time.

In total, the proposed trip only offers about ten minutes in space, but passengers can detach and float in zero gravity.

The first commercial flight, dubbed Galactic 01, is to be made with the Italian Air Force.

Between 2005 and 2014, Virgin Galactic had sold some 600 tickets to space, for a price between 200,000 and 250,000 dollars. Then 200 more have been sold in recent years, for $450,000 each.

Virgin Galactic competes with billionaire Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin, which also offers short suborbital flights and has already sent 32 people into space.

But since an accident in September 2022 during an unmanned flight, his rocket has been grounded. Blue Origin promised in March to resume spaceflight “soon”.