After a successful flight to the edge of space on Thursday, space tourism company Virgin Galactic said it is ready to enter commercial service in June.
Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, VMS Eve, left the launch site in New Mexico carrying a crew of six (plus two aircraft pilots) around 9:15 a.m. MT. The VSS Unity spaceplane dropped from the jet’s wing more than an hour later, flying into suborbital space at an altitude of 44,500 feet. The entire mission lasted about 90 minutes.
Thursday’s mission, called Unity 25, ends a nearly two-year halt in operations for the company. That last flight, which took place in June 2021, also took six people into suborbital space, including the company’s billionaire founder Richard Branson. While Virgin Galactic did not broadcast the Unity 25 mission, the company kept its followers updated on social media. NASA Spaceflight, a private news website with a large following on YouTube and Twitter, is not officially livestreaming the flight.
The Unity 25 crew includes Virgin employees Jamila Gilbert, Christopher Huie, Luke Mays and Beth Moses. The VSS Unity spaceplane was piloted by Mike Masucci and CJ Sturckow, while the VMS Eve was commanded by Jameel Janjua and Nicola Pecile.
“The ‘Unity 25’ mission is an incredible achievement for everyone at Virgin Galactic,” CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement. “Having witnessed the pure joy of our inspiring crew upon landing, I have full confidence in the unique astronaut experience we are building for our customers. Our teams are now beginning post-flight analysis as well as preparing for ‘Galactic 01,’ our commercial research mission, planned for late June.
The successful flight marks an important step for the company, which says it is finally ready to enter commercial operations next month. Virgin Galactic said in a statement that it achieved two main mission objectives: conducting a final inspection of VMS Eve and VSS Unity and evaluating astronaut training and experience in space flight. . That commercial flight will carry three officers for the Italian Air Force, part of a contract announced in 2019.
Virgin Galactic has been plagued by years of technical snafus and regulatory delays. The company has reportedly burned nearly $1.5 billion since 2018, although it has nearly $1 billion on the runway. Virgin Galactic eventually aims to conduct a flight once a week using underdevelopment Delta-class suborbital spaceplanes, at a ticket price of around $450,000.
Virgin Galactic is separated from Virgin Orbit, a commercial company also founded by Branson that is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings. Virgin Galactic is a space tourism company, while Virgin Orbit has aspirations of delivering small spacecraft cargo into orbit.