Virgin Galactic has successfully completed what should be its final test flight before launching commercial services for its sub-orbital rocket flights next month.
Thursday’s mission was the second fully crewed test flight following the first one in 2021 when Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson flew with five others to the edge of space in the rocket-powered VSS Unity aircraft.
Virgin Galactic shared a highlights reel that included Unity blasting skyward and the crew floating in the cabin high over Earth:
Following the same steps as Branson’s flight, the VMS Eve aircraft carried VSS Unity to an altitude of 50,000 feet after taking off from its Spaceport America facility in New Mexico at 10:37 a.m. local time.
After releasing Unity at 44,500 feet, the plane fired up its rocket engine, powering the crew to an altitude of 54.2 miles, about eight miles short of the Kármán line, the point generally considered as where space begins.
Following a few minutes of weightlessness and a moment to marvel at the amazing views of Earth, the crew — all Virgin Galactic employees — returned to their seats for the ride home to the runway at Spaceport America, touching down at 10:37 a.m. local time.
“The Unity 25 mission was a fantastic achievement for everyone at Virgin Galactic,” company CEO Michael Colglazier said after Unity returned safely home. “Witnessing our inspiring crew’s pure joy upon landing, I have complete confidence in the unique astronaut experience we have built for our customers.”
Virgin Galactic said the next task for the team is to carefully inspect the Eve and Unity vehicles and review all other gathered data in the coming weeks. After that, it’ll be in a position to confirm Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight — Galactic 01 — which is currently slated for June.
While Thursday’s flight was smooth, getting here hasn’t been easy for Virgin Galactic. An in-flight breakup during a test mission in 2014 killed pilot Michael Alsbury and delayed the project by several years, with a string of other issues also slowing things down.
But with Thursday’s flight in the bag, Virgin Galactic could be on course to launch a commercial service just weeks from now, offering wealthy folks and funded passengers the chance of an unforgettable ride to the edge of space.
Hundreds of people have already paid as much $450,000 each for a seat, and so Virgin Galactic will be keen to finally launch a space tourism service not only to please its patient customers, but also to keep the business afloat.