The VMS Eve carrier aircraft is seen in the background shortly after the release of VSS Unity, firing its engine and accelerating during the company’s fourth spaceflight test, Unity 22, carrying founder Richard Branson on July 11 2021.
Galactic Virgo is targeting the launch of its next spaceflight, which marks both its first in almost two years since the founding flight Sir Richard Branson and its last planned stop before the start of commercial service.
Called Unity 25, the mission represents the company’s fifth spaceflight to date, launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico. It is a “final evaluation” flight, with six Virgin Galactic employees on board for a short trip to the far reaches of space.
The update comes after a longer-than-expected renovation period for the company’s spacecraft: a few months after Branson’s flight, and following an FAA investigation into an accident during his trip, the company suspended operations for what was supposed to be an “eight to 10 month” process – but ended up taking almost 16 months instead.
Shares of Virgin Galactic rose 5% in early trading on Wednesday after the news, before giving up gains to trade little on the day. The company released first-quarter results earlier this month that showed mounting losses as it funds the development and expansion of its spacecraft fleet.
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Internal pilots Mike Masucci and CJ Sturckow will pilot the VSS Unity spacecraft, while Jameel Janjua and Nicola Pecile will pilot the VMS Eve carrier aircraft. In the passenger cabin will be 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.
Virgin Galactic’s approach to space tourism is to fly to an altitude of approximately 40,000 feet, release the spacecraft and fire its engine to exceed 80 kilometers (or approximately 262,000 feet) – the altitude that the United States recognizes as the limit of space.
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 orbital flights performed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. After flying on his own craft in 2021, Branson told CNBC he hopes to fly with 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”.