Virgin Galactic: New tourist spacecraft means you could fly this year
Virgin Galactic has finished a protracted upgrade process for its flagship tourist spaceship, and commercial service is scheduled to start in the second quarter of 2023, according to a company release on February 28.
The company, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, postponed its first customer mission to the edge of space in 2021 after suspending flights of the spaceplane VSS Unity and its carrier aircraft to make different spacecraft improvements.
"Our near-term objective for commercial spaceline operations is to safely deliver recurring flights with our current ships while providing an unrivaled experience for private astronauts and researchers," Virgin Galactic Chief Executive Michael Colglazier said in a statement on the company's Q4 and year-end 2022 earnings.
The twin-fuselage carrier VMS Eve of VSS Unity flew for the first time since 2021 this month. Before its first commercial mission, the business intends to do "two or three" verification flights, one of which will be a research mission to the edge of space for the Italian Air Force, according to Colglazier, who spoke on an earnings call.
The space tourism corporation maintained its target of executing its next spaceflights in the second quarter of this year, following a long pause stretching back to summer 2021. Virgin Galactic made several improvements and repairs to its jet-powered mothership, known as VMS Eve, during that time.
Following the Italian Air Force flight, Virgin Galactic plans to launch monthly commercial flights, a much-anticipated cadence to handle the company's approximately 800 waiting passengers.
VSS Unity launches mid-air from the middle of its VMS Eve carrier plane and flies for around 10 minutes in microgravity on each flight in space, which is over 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the Earth. The spaceship returns for a landing in a manner akin to that of commercial aircraft.
Earlier this month, the company moved VMS Eve from its Mojave, California, manufacturing facility to Spaceport America in New Mexico and conducted two validation flight tests with the spacecraft.
During a series of tests, the spacecraft VSS Unity will be attached to the carrier aircraft, showing that the work done to reinforce the pylon in the center of VMS Eve's wing was successful. After that, Virgin Galactic will perform glide tests in which VMS Eve carries and releases the spacecraft, followed by a test spaceflight with the entire company crew on board.
The company re-opened ticket sales to the public for spacecraft flights in February, setting prices at $450,000 per person with an initial deposit of $150,000.