Virgin Galactic's countdown to commercial operations: Final test flight set for May 25

VSS Unity 25 will make a final assessment of the full spaceflight and astronaut experience.
Jijo Malayil
VSS Unity
VSS Unity

Virgin Galactic  

After Blue Origin and SpaceX, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is inching close to its dream of launching space tourism services.

The California-headquartered spaceflight company will conduct its final fully crewed test flight on May 25 before it launches its highly anticipated commercial space tourism operations. The firm's VSS Unity 25 flight aims for a 10 am Eastern time take-off, for which the specialist training sessions will start on May 22. The mission will mark its 25th flight and 5th spaceflight for the aircraft.

The VSS Unity spacecraft, which will be crewed by two pilots and four Virgin Galactic mission specialists, will make its return to space with the launch of Unity 25. The aircraft's last fully crewed flight was in July 2021, when it successfully launched Virgin Galactic's founder Sir Richard Branson and three company employees into space. 

According to the firm, The Unity 25 crew will "make the final assessment of the full spaceflight and astronaut experience before commercial service begins in late June," according to a blog post from the company. 

A two-stage process offering a seamless ride

The VSS Unity spacecraft, which will be transported to an altitude of roughly 50,000 feet by the bigger VMS Eve aircraft, will launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico with a four-member crew of Beth Moses, Luke Mays, Jamila Gilbert, and Christopher Huie on board.

VMS Eve lets go of the Unity spacecraft after it acquires the threshold altitude, the latter then firing its engines to propel it to a peak altitude of around 282,000 feet (which is seven times the altitude achieved by commercial airlines), about 9 miles shy of the Kármán line, which is usually regarded as the beginning of space.

At this altitude, tourists can experience zero gravity and great views of Earth for a few minutes, after which the aircraft will initiate its descent back to the base. 

Success, a requirement for Virgin Galactic

The company is already lagging behind competitors like Blue Origin, which has already begun commercial missions. Another rival, SpaceX, is working to initiate its tourist missions to the moon. 

An accident in 2014 that resulted in the death of Virgin Galactic's pilot Michael Alsbury had set back the project for several years. Furthermore, various technical alternations warranted over time have also led to Virgin Galactic missing its planned schedule. 

The company also posted significant losses, at around $500 million in 2022. The company intends to kick start its commercial operation and fulfill its long order list with hundreds of customers who had already paid $450,000 each for the service. The initiation of the commercial process will also help the company to further the production of its next-generation Delta Delta class spaceships.

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