The VMS EVE aircraft carries the VSS Unity spacecraft during a flight test.
Virgin Galactic is set to launch its first space flight in nearly two years on Thursday as the space tourism company aims to pass a final test before commercial passengers.
The mission, called Unity 25, marks the company’s fifth space flight to date and will launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico. This is a “final evaluation” flight with six Virgin Galactic employees on board for a short trip to the edge of space.
Virgin Galactic will not publicly live-stream this flight, unlike its previous space flight that carried founder Sir Richard Branson in July 2021. Instead, the company plans to update Unity 25’s progress on social media.
The VMS Eve launch vehicle is expected to lift off at about 10 a.m. ET and carry the company’s VSS Unity spacecraft to an altitude of about 40,000 feet before launching the rocket-powered vehicle. VSS Unity will then fire its engine and aim to climb past 80 kilometers (or about 262,000 feet) — the height the US recognizes as the limit of space.
This type of spaceflight, known as suborbital it gives passengers a few minutes of weightlessness, as opposed to a much longer, more difficult and expensive one private orbital flights conducted Elon Musk SpaceX. Depending on the results and data collected from Unity 25, the company aims to fly its first commercial mission in late June.
VSS Unity will be piloted by Virgin Galactic’s Mike Masucci and CJ Sturckow, while the VMS Eve carrier aircraft will be piloted by Jameel Janjua and Nicola Pecile. In the passenger cabin will be Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, as well as Astronaut Instructor Luke Mays, Chief Technical Manager Christopher Huie and Chief Internal Communications Manager Jamila Gilbert.
A crucial moment
An aerial view of the launch vehicle VMS Eve, left, and the spacecraft VSS Unity at Spaceport America, New Mexico, on February 27, 2023.
Unity 25 marks a pivotal moment in the history of Virgin Galactic, which has suffered repeated setbacks and years of delays in developing its spaceflight system.
Branson’s space flight nearly two years ago came after nearly 17 years of work and more than a billion dollars invested in the company. Prior to that, the spacecraft’s development saw several disasters, including a rocket engine explosion on Earth in 2007 that killed three Scaled Composite employees, as well as the 2014 crash of SpaceShipTwo’s first vehicle, the VSS Enterprise, which killed the Virgin Galactic co-pilot. Michael Alsbury and injured pilot Peter Siebold.
After Branson’s space flight, Virgin Galactic suspended operations for a longer period than expected while the company worked on its spacecraft and launch vehicle. FAA accident investigation during his journey. The renovation process was supposed to take about eight to 10 months, but ended up taking nearly 16 months.
Virgin Galactic has yet to generate meaningful revenue and to do so it needs to fly into space regularly. Even though the company has nearly $900 million in cash and securities, his quarterly cash burn continues to grow as it invests heavily in expanding its spaceship fleet.
Virgin Galactic needs to launch its future Delta class to fly weekly, but those spacecraft are not expected to begin flying until 2026.
VSS Unity is designed to accommodate up to six passengers along with two pilots. The company has 600 ticket reservations for future flights, which sell for between $200,000 and $250,000 each. It ticket sales reopened in 2021with pricing starting at $450,000 per seat.