After a successful flight to the edge of space on Thursday, space tourism company Virgin Galactic says it is ready to enter commercial service in June.
Virgin Galactic’s aircraft, VMS Eve, took off from the launch site in New Mexico around 9:15 AM MT with a crew of six (plus two aircraft pilots). The VSS Unity spaceplane dropped out of the jet’s wing just over an hour later and ascended into suborbital space at an altitude of 44,500 feet. The entire mission took about 90 minutes.
Thursday’s mission, dubbed Unity 25, marks the end of a nearly two-year hiatus in the company’s operations. That last flight, which took place in June 2021, also carried six people into suborbital space, including the company’s founder, billionaire Richard Branson. Although Virgin Galactic did not broadcast the Unity 25 mission, the company kept followers updated via social media. NASA Spaceflight, a private news website with massive followings on YouTube and Twitter, livestreamed the flight unofficially.
Unity 25’s crew included Virgin employees Jamila Gilbert, Christopher Huie, Luke Mays and Beth Moses. The VSS Unity spaceplane was piloted by Mike Masucci and CJ Sturckow, while VMS Eve was commandeered by Jameel Janjua and Nicola Pecile.
“The ‘Unity 25’ mission was a fantastic achievement for everyone at Virgin Galactic,” CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement. “Witnessing the sheer delight of our inspiring crew on landing gives me complete confidence in the unique astronaut experience we have built for our customers. Our teams are now beginning post-flight analysis and preparations for ‘Galactic 01’, our commercial research mission, scheduled for the end of June.”
The successful flight marks a crucial step for the company, which says it is now finally ready to start commercial activities as early as next month. Virgin Galactic said in a statement that it had achieved two main mission objectives: to conduct a final assessment of VMS Eve and VSS Unity and to evaluate astronaut training and spaceflight experience. That commercial flight will carry three Italian Air Force officers, part of a contract announced in 2019.
Virgin Galactic has been plagued by years of technical difficulties and regulatory delays. The company reportedly burned nearly $1.5 billion since 2018, though it still has about $1 billion in runway. Virgin Galactic eventually aims to operate a flight once a week using its underdeveloped Delta-class suborbital spaceplanes, at a ticket price of approximately $450,000.
Virgin Galactic differs 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 had aspirations to launch small spacecraft into orbit.