What Virgin Galactic's final test flight means for space exploration
California-based space tourism company Virgin Galactic is gearing up for a crucial mission today. The company will launch its final crewed test flight, dubbed Unity 25, into suborbital space. "The Unity 25 crew will make the final assessment of the full spaceflight and astronaut experience before commercial services begin in late June," said Virgin Galactic in a statement.
Why does this story matter?
- Virgin Galactic is now just one step away from launching its commercial space flights. In other words, interested people can make a reservation and the company will take them to space.
- The Unity 25 flight will be the fifth time that Virgin Galactic has flown to space. Also, it will be the first spaceflight the company is conducting in over two years.
There will be a total of 8 crew members
The Unity 25 flight will include eight people, out of which six crew members will fly on the VSS Unity spacecraft and the remaining two will pilot the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve. The VMS Eve aircraft will ascend to an altitude of 50,000 feet, roughly 15km above the Earth's surface, after which it will release the VSS Unity spacecraft.
The flight will launch from Spaceport America
Once released from the carrier aircraft, VSS Unity will fire its rocket engines, reaching speeds of Mach 3 (thrice the speed of sound). It will climb to 80km, which is considered the boundary of space. During suborbital space flight, passengers will be able to experience weightlessness for a few minutes. The test flight will be launched later today from Spaceport America, New Mexico.
The company aims to launch commercial flights in late June
If everything goes according to plan with Unity 25, Virgin Galactic will then launch commercial services for passengers next month. The company's first passenger flight, called 'Galactic 01' is scheduled in late June, per the official website. The company has 600 reservations available for future space flights and is charging $450,000 per seat (roughly Rs. 3.7 crore).
A former NASA astronaut will pilot VSS unity
All of the eight crew members aboard the Unity 25 test flight are Virgin Galactic employees. Mike Masucci will command VSS Unity and C.J. Sturckow, a former NASA astronaut, will be the pilot.
There will be four members flying in Unity's cabin
Jameel Janjua will command VMS Eve and Nicola Pecile will pilot the aircraft. The four members flying in Unity's cabin are Beth Moses (chief astronaut instructor), Luke Mays (astronaut instructor), Christopher Huie, and Jamila Gilbert. Huie and Gilbert will serve as mission specialists While Moses has been to space twice before, Unity 25 will be the first spaceflight for Mays, Huie, and Gilbert.
Virgin Galactic made its last space flight in July 2021
Unity 25 will mark a major milestone for Virgin Galactic. The last space flight Virgin Galactic sent was in July 2021. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Indian-origin Sirisha Bandla and four other passengers were on the trip which lasted a total of 90 minutes. The company has spent the past two years updating and testing VSS Unity and VMS Eve.