Final test before commercial service

The aircraft VMS EVE carries the spacecraft VSS Unity during flight tests.

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virgin galactic The company is preparing to launch its first space flight in nearly two years on Thursday, as the space tourism company aims to pass final tests before flying commercial passengers.

The mission, called Unity 25, is the company’s fifth spaceflight to date and will launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico. It marked a “final evaluation” flight, with six Virgin Galactic employees aboard for the excursion to the edge of space.

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Virgin Galactic will not publicly broadcast the flight, unlike a previous space flight in July 2021 that carried founder Sir Richard Branson. Instead, the company plans to post an update on Unity 25 progress on social media.

The carrier plane, VMS Eve, is expected to take off around 10 a.m. ET, lift the company’s VSS Unity spacecraft to an altitude of about 40,000 feet, and release the rocket-powered vehicle. The VSS Unity will then fire up its engines, with the goal of climbing more than 80 kilometers (or about 262,000 feet) — an altitude considered by the United States to be the frontier of space.

This type of space flight is called suborbital Give passengers a few minutes of weightlessness, unlike longer, more difficult and more expensive weightlessness private orbit flight by carrying out Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation. Based on the results and data collected from Unity 25, the company aims to execute its first commercial mission in “late June.”

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The VSS Unity will be piloted by Virgin Galactic’s Mike Masucci and CJ Sturckow, while the VMS Eve will be piloted by Jameel Janjua and Nicola Pecile. Inside the cabin will be Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, Astronaut Instructor Luke Mays, Senior Engineering Manager Christopher Huey and Senior Manager of Internal Communications Jameela Gilbert.

crucial moment

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

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

Branson’s spaceflight nearly two years ago comes after nearly 17 years on the job and more than $1 billion invested in the company. Before that, spacecraft development had suffered several disasters, including a ground-based rocket motor explosion that killed three Scaled Composite employees in 2007, and the 2014 crash of the VSS Enterprise, the first SpaceShipTwo vehicle, that killed Virgin Galactic co-pilot Michael J. Alsbury with injured pilot Peter Siebold.

Virgin Galactic suspends operations longer than expected after Branson’s spaceflight FAA investigation into accident on his journey. The renovation process was supposed to take about 8 to 10 months, but ended up taking almost 16 months.

Virgin Galactic has yet to generate meaningful revenue, and would need regular space flights to do so.While the company has nearly $900 million in cash and securities on hand, its Quarterly cash burn continues to climb Because it has invested heavily in expanding its fleet of spacecraft.

Virgin Galactic needs to bring its future Delta class to market for weekly flights, but those spacecraft are not expected to start flying until 2026.

VSS Unity is designed to accommodate up to six passengers and two pilots. The company booked 600 tickets for future flights, each priced between $200,000 and $250, Ticket sales reopen in 2021starting at $450,000 per seat.

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