The private astronauts aboard the Galactic 03 mission were among the first people to buy their tickets from the company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson in 2004.
American real estate entrepreneur Ken Baxter, South Africa-born conservationist Timothy Nash, and British engineer and entrepreneur Adrian Reynard took their places aboard the rocket-powered spaceplane VSS Unity, along with Virgin Galactic's astronaut instructor Beth Moses.
"What a thrilling day for our three new private astronauts and the entire team at Virgin Galactic," said CEO Michael Colglazier.
The spaceflights involve a giant, twin-fuselage carrier aircraft with two pilots that takes off from a runway at Spaceport in New Mexico.
This mothership, called VSS Eve, gains a high altitude then drops the spaceplane attached below it, which in turn engages its thrusters to soar into space at speeds approaching Mach-3.
Passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness, where they are free to perform somersaults and gaze out the window at the curvature of the Earth.
The company's first private mission in June involved members of the Italian Air Force, and was followed in August by the launch of its first tourists, including a mother-daughter pair who won their spots in through a sweepstakes competition for charity.
Friday's flight launched at 8:34 am Mountain Time (1434 GMT) and landed at 9:36 am (1536 GMT), with VSS Unity achieving a maximum altitude of 55 miles (89 kilometers).
In a notable first, Nash brought with him two fossils of human ancestors to space, "the clavicle (collar bone) of the almost 2-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba and a thumb bone of Homo naledi, dated to about 250,000 years ago," according to Virgin Galactic's website.
Both were discovered in the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Johannesburg in South Africa.
Virgin Galactic competes in the "suborbital" space tourism sector with billionaire Jeff Bezos's company Blue Origin, which has already sent 31 people into space using a vertical lift-off rocket.
But since an accident in September 2022 during an unmanned flight, Blue Origin's rocket has been grounded. The company promised in March to resume spaceflight soon.
Virgin Galactic meanwhile plans to press ahead with monthly commercial spaceflights. It has sold around 800 tickets -- 600 between 2005 and 2014 for $200,000 to $250,000, and 200 since then for $450,000 each.
|Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters
China continues to make strides in space breeding technique
Station Hosts 11 Crewmates from Five Countries
A multinational crew blasts off from Florida, heading for the International Space Station
Sea launch 1st by Chinese private entity
Japan launches telescope and moon lander following weather delays
Another successful hot-fire test for Ariane 6 upper stage
Pulsar Fusion forms partnership with University of Michigan for electric propulsion
China publishes new datasets obtained by Mars, lunar probes
Sols 3932-3933: Touch and Go, Go, Go!
Mars helicopter Ingenuity completes 56th flight
Copy and Paste at Gale Crater: Sols 3934-3935
China solicits names for manned lunar exploration vehicles
From rice to quantum gas: China's targets pioneering space research
China to launch "Innovation X Scientific Flight" program, applications open worldwide
Scientists reveal blueprint of China's lunar water-ice probe mission
Vodafone and Amazon's Project Kuiper to extend connectivity in Africa and Europe
SpaceX sends 22 new Starlink satellites into orbit in 60th launch of 2023
Intuitive Machines announces $20M equity investment
LeoStella and Hera Systems Establish Strategic Alliance
SatixFy announces strategic $60M transaction with MDA
ReOrbit completes oversubscribed seed funding round
Terran Orbital unveils new product line of seven satellite buses
A system to keep cloud-based gamers in sync
Newly discovered planet has longest orbit yet detected by the TESS mission
Thermometer molecule confirmed on exoplanet WASP-31b
New giant planet evidence of possible planetary collisions
Hot Jupiter blows its top
SwRI will lead Hubble, Webb observations of Io, Jupiter's volcanic moon
In the service of planetary science, astrophysics and heliophysics
Mysterious Neptune dark spot detected from Earth for the first time
Neptune's Disappearing Clouds Linked to the Solar Cycle
|Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters