Final test before sales service


The VMS EVE aircraft carries with the VSS Unity spacecraft during a flight test.

Galactic Virgo

Galactic Virgo launched its first spaceflight in nearly two years on Thursday, a key final test for the space tourism company before it begins carrying commercial passengers.

“WE HAVE REACHED SPACE!” the company tweeted.

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Called Unity 25, the mission represents the company’s fifth spaceflight to date and was launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico. It marks a “final evaluation” flight, with six Virgin Galactic employees on board for a short trip to the far reaches of space.

Virgin Galactic is not publicly streaming the flight live, unlike its previous spaceflight which carried founder Sir Richard Branson in July 2021. Instead, the company is giving updates on Unity 25’s progress on the social networks. A third-party webcast provided insight into the company’s launch.

Virgin Galactic stock slid about 7% in trading from its previous close of $4.41 per share.

The VMS Eve carrier aircraft lifted off around 11:15 a.m. ET, carrying the company’s VSS Unity spacecraft to an altitude of approximately 40,000 feet. VMS Eve released the rocket-powered vehicle shortly after noon ET for VSS Unity to then fire its engine and fly past 80 kilometers (or approximately 262,000 feet) — the altitude the United States recognizes as the limit of space.

The spacecraft should then descend again to land on the Spaceport America runway.

Known as a sub-orbital, this type of spaceflight offers passengers a few minutes of weightlessness, unlike the much longer, more difficult and more expensive private orbital flights performed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Based on the results and data collected from Unity 25, the company aims to conduct its first trade mission “at the end of June”.

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VSS Unity is piloted by Virgin Galactic’s Mike Masucci and CJ Sturckow, while carrier aircraft VMS Eve is piloted by Jameel Janjua and Nicola Pecile. In the passenger cabin are Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, along with Astronaut Instructor Luke Mays, Senior Director of Engineering Christopher Huie and Senior Director of Internal Communications Jamila Gilbert.

A pivotal moment

An aerial view of the VMS Eve carrier aircraft, left, and the VSS Unity spacecraft, at Spaceport America in New Mexico on February 27, 2023.

Galactic Virgo

Unity 25 represents a pivotal moment in the history of Virgin Galactic, which has suffered repeated setbacks and years of delays in the development of its spaceflight system.

Branson’s spaceflight nearly two years ago came after nearly 17 years of work and more than $1 billion invested in the company. Prior to that, spacecraft development saw several disasters, including a 2007 ground rocket engine explosion that killed three employees of Virgin Galactic Scaled Composites contractor, as well as the crash of SpaceShipTwo’s first vehicle, VSS Enterprise. , in 2014 that killed Scaled co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injured pilot Peter Siebold while conducting a test flight of the Virgin Galactic-owned spacecraft.

After Branson’s spaceflight, Virgin Galactic suspended operations for a longer-than-expected period of refurbishment while the company worked on its spacecraft and carrier plane, following an FAA investigation into an accident during his trip. The renovation process was expected to take about eight to 10 months, but ended up taking nearly 16 months.

Virgin Galactic has yet to generate significant revenue and must regularly perform spaceflight to do so. While the company has nearly $900 million in cash and securities, its quarterly cash burn continues to rise as it invests heavily in expanding its starship fleet.

Virgin Galactic is due to bring its future Delta class to market for weekly flights, but those spacecraft aren’t expected to start flying until 2026.

VSS Unity is designed to seat up to six passengers with both pilots. The company has 600 ticket reservations on future flights, sold at prices between $200,000 and $250,000 each. It reopened ticket sales in 2021, with pricing starting at $450,000 per seat.

Space tourism is a niche market, so why are Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin betting on it?

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