Virgin Galactic Plans to Launch Its First Commercial Flight After 2-Year Hiatus
02:28 GMT 09.05.2023 (Updated: 02:46 GMT 09.05.2023)
Virgin Galactic is set to resume its spaceflights after a hiatus of nearly two years, with the launch of its Unity 25 mission in late May. The company, founded by Richard Branson, plans to begin commercial trips in June.
The Unity 25 mission will serve as the final assessment of the spaceflight system and astronaut experience before opening for commercial service. The flight will carry four company employees and mark Virgin Galactic's fifth trip into space, reaching an altitude of 50 miles (80 kilometers) above sea level.
Virgin Galactic employs a carrier aircraft that takes off from a runway, ascends to high altitude, and then releases a rocket-powered plane that travels into space before gliding back to Earth, instead of a more common vertical-launch practice.
The entire journey lasts 90 minutes, during which passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness in the aircraft's cabin. The launch spot is set to be Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The crew for the Unity 25 mission will consist of two men and two women, including Beth Moses, who participated in two previous Virgin Galactic flights, along with Jamila Gilbert, Chris Huie, and Luke Mays, who received training as NASA astronauts. The mothership and spaceship will each be piloted by two crew members.
It's known that Italian Air Force members will be on board of the first commercial flight, Galactic 01.
9 January 2023, 22:32 GMT
Virgin Galactic has already sold 800 tickets
for future commercial flights, with 600 sold between 2005 and 2014 for prices ranging from $200,000 to $250,000, and 200 sold since 2014 for $450,000 each.
Virgin Galactic shares soared 24.4% in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange on the news of the flight date announcement. Branson's company rose to $4.49 apiece in early trading on Monday. By closing, the spike slowed to 11.9% and the price fell to $4.04 per share.
Since the first manned suborbital launch, Virgin Galactic has postponed the first commercial launch several times and conducted test flights only. In May 2022, the company postponed the launch of tourist flights to the first quarter of 2023, and then to the second quarter. At the same time, the company posted a loss of $1.5 billion since 2018.
In April 2023, Virgin Orbit, another of Branson's space launch companies, filed for bankruptcy in the US
due to insufficient funding. Before this, almost all employees were placed on unpaid leave for an indefinite period.
Virgin Galactic faces competition in the space tourism industry from Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, which also offers suborbital flights and has sent 32 people into space. However, Blue Origin's New Shepard rockets have been grounded
since a September 2022 accident during an unmanned flight. The company has expressed its intention to resume flights soon.