Virgin Galactic is gearing up for its first crewed flight in nearly two years. The space tourism company announced that it will launch its Unity 25 crew into space later this month but didn’t provide a specific date.
The upcoming spaceflight is “the final assessment of the full spaceflight system and astronaut experience” ahead of Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight that’s planned for the end of June. Unity 25 marks the company’s fifth spaceflight and will launch four Virgin Galactic employees — Beth Moses, Luke Mays, Jamila Gilbert, and Christopher Huie — to the edge of space.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) May 8, 2023
As is the case with Virgin Galactic’s other spaceflights, this launch will involve the use of two vehicles: the VSS Unity and the VMS Eve. While the VSS Unity is the rocket-powered spaceplane that houses Virgin Galactic’s passengers, the VMS Eve is the mothership that carries Unity into space. When the two reach around 50,000 feet of altitude, Eve drops Unity before the spaceplane blasts its way to suborbital space, allowing passengers to experience a few moments of weightlessness as they gaze upon Earth from far above.
The last Virgin Galactic spaceflight took place in July 2021 and had Virgin CEO Richard Branson, along with three other employees, on board. While the flight was a success, it’s been a bumpy past couple of years since then, with Virgin Galactic continuing to lose money and its sister satellite launching company, Virgin Orbit, going bankrupt in April.
Virgin Galactic directly competes with the Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin and charges $450,000 for a seat on its spaceplane. If all goes well later this month and during its first commercial spaceflight, the company might be able to start turning things around.