Virgin Galactic Announces First Commercial Research Mission

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • “Unity 23” Test Flight Will Mark First Research Customer Mission
  • Partnership with Italian Air Force Marks First Mission of Its Kind led by European Country

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced the manifest for the next rocket-powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity from Spaceport America, which will be the first commercial, human-tended research mission for the Company.

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Virgin Galactic Statement About Anomaly on Richard Branson’s Suborbital Space Flight

Virgin Galactic Statement

We dispute the misleading characterizations and conclusions in the New Yorker article published today.

The safety of our crew and passengers is Virgin Galactic’s top priority. Our entire approach to spaceflight is guided by a fundamental commitment to safety at every level, including our spaceflight system, our test flight program and our rigorous pilot training protocol.

Unity 22 was a safe and successful test flight that adhered to our flight procedures and training protocols. When the vehicle encountered high altitude winds which changed the trajectory, the pilots and systems monitored the trajectory to ensure it remained within mission parameters. Our pilots responded appropriately to these changing flight conditions exactly as they were trained and in strict accordance with our established procedures. Although the flights ultimate trajectory deviated from our initial plan, it was a controlled and intentional flight path that allowed Unity 22 to successfully reach space and land safely at our Spaceport in New Mexico. At no time were passengers and crew put in any danger as a result of this change in trajectory.

The Unity 22 flight further reaffirms our technical readiness, our rigorous pilot training program and the inherent safety of our spaceflight system, particularly in light of changing flight conditions. As we move toward commercial service, we are confident we have the right safety culture, policies and processes in place to build and operate a safe and successful business over the long term.

Statement on the FAA

Although the flight’s ultimate trajectory deviated from our initial plan, the Unity 22 flight did not fly outside of the lateral confines of the protected airspace. As a result of the trajectory adjustment, the flight did drop below the altitude of the airspace that is protected for Virgin Galactic missions for a short distance and time (1 minute and 41 seconds) before re-entering restricted airspace that is protected all the way to the ground for Virgin Galactic missions. At no time did the ship travel above any population centers or cause a hazard to the public. FAA representatives were present in the control room during the flight and in post-flight debriefs. We are working in partnership with the FAA to address the airspace for future flights.

Report: Branson’s Flight into Space Experienced Serious Anomaly; Company Fired Flight Test Director

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

By all appearances, Richard Branson’s 17-years-in-the-making flight to the edge of space went exactly as planned on July 11. Or at least that was the impression left by Virgin Galactic’s webcast of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity’s flight test from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

But, for the second time in four suborbital flights, VSS Unity experienced a serious anomaly. The ship with its hybrid engine firing wasn’t rising steeply enough as it soared toward space, Nicholas Schmidle reports in The New Yorker:

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Virgin Galactic Raises Ticket Prices to $450,000, Delays Commercial Flights 2 Quarters, and Reports $94 Million 2nd Quarter Net Loss

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On July 11, Richard Branson returned from a suborbital journey declaring the start of a new era of flight that would make outer space open to everyone, and promoting a raffle for two averagenauts to fly aboard early flights of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

Today, Virgin Galactic announced it was hiking the cost of those seats from $250,000 to $450,000 for new ticket buyers. It was the second time the company has raised ticket prices even before any paying passengers have flown. In 2013, the price rose from $200,000 to $250,000. The first paying passengers haven’t even flown yet.

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“Test God” Out as Virgin Galactic’s Director of Flight Test

Well, one day you’re a “God,” the next day you’re on the unemployment line.

Such was fate of Mark Stucky, who was Virgin Galactic’s lead pilot and director of flight test. On Tuesday, he announced on his Linkedin page that he had left the position. When asked why, he replied,

“Departing a company not on my own timeline was a first for me.”

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Sweepstakes Launched to Win Seats on Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Suborbital Flights

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LOS ANGELES (Omaze PR) — Omaze, the charity fundraising platform that offers the chance to win once-in-a-lifetime experiences and prizes, and Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic Founder, announced they will give away two seats on a Virgin Galactic commercial flight. The Omaze sweepstakes will support Space for Humanity, a nonprofit seeking to democratize space and send citizen astronauts of diverse racial, economic, and disciplinary backgrounds to space.

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NASA-Supported Plant Experiment Flew to Suborbital Space with Virgin Galactic

Three Kennedy Space Center Fixation Tubes (KFTs), like the one shown here, contained Arabidopsis thaliana plants during the crewed Unity 22 flight to space. Virgin Galactic’s Sirisha Bandla activated the tubes to release a preservative that captured the plants’ biochemistry at specific points during transitions into and out of microgravity, and co-investigators from the University of Florida will conduct gene expression analyses on the plants in the weeks following the flight. (Credits: University of Florida)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — On Sunday, July 11, Virgin Galactic conducted its first fully crewed spaceflight and the crew had NASA-supported technology with them. 

Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations at Virgin Galactic, operated the experiment on the “Unity 22” flight on behalf of co-investigators Dr. Robert Ferl and Dr. Anna-Lisa Paul from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Bandla activated three plant-filled tubes to release a preservative at critical data-collection stages during the flight: at 1 before the rocket boost, just before entering microgravity, and after the conclusion of microgravity.

While the university researchers have flown similar experiments  supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program on suborbital flights, data collected during the Unity 22 flight will provide a first look at human-tended payloads on SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic Successfully Completes First Fully Crewed Spaceflight

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Fourth Spaceflight Tests Private Astronaut and Research Experience
  • First In-Flight Livestream Brings Spaceflight Experience to Audiences Around the World 

LAS CRUCES, N.M. July 11, 2021 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“the Company” or “Virgin Galactic”) today announced that VSS Unity successfully reached space, completing the Company’s fourth rocket-powered spaceflight. 

Today’s flight was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.

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Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson Aims to Fly to Space Before Jeff Bezos

Richard Branson wears the SpaceShipTwo flight suit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Fourth of July weekend could include some extra fireworks this year.

Updated with statement from Virgin Galactic on June 8, 2021 at 10:53 a.m. PDT.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It looks like Richard Branson could beat fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos to space next month.

Virgin Galactic is working on a plan to send Branson on a suborbital flight aboard the VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo rocket plane over the July 4 holiday weekend, according to a source who requested anonymity. The flight is contingent upon obtaining an operator’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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Virgin Galactic Announces New Contract for Human-tended Research Spaceflight

Scientific payloads in SpaceShipTwo cabin (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

IIAS Researcher Kellie Gerardi to Fly as Payload Specialist on Research Mission

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, has announced a new contract to fly Kellie Gerardi, a researcher for the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), on a dedicated research flight, during which Kellie will conduct experiments and test new healthcare technologies while she is in space.

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New Shepard Auction Update: The Bid Remains the Same

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Checking up on Blue Origin’s auction of a seat on the first crewed New Shepard flight, we find that the top bid remains at $2.8 million. That’s exactly where it was a few days after online bidding became public on May 19.

Online bidding will end next Thursday, June 10 at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 UTC). Bidders need to raise their bid limits before that deadline. Two days later, the competition will conclude with a live online auction.

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Breaking Down Virgin Galactic’s Latest Flight Test

Take me out to the black,
Tell them I ain’t comin’ back.
Burn the land and boil the sea,
You can’t take the sky from me….

— “The Ballad of Serenity,” Sonny Rhodes

“After so many years and so much hard work, New Mexico has finally reached the stars.”

— New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

By now, you’ve probably read the rhetoric flourishes in Virgin Galactic’s press release about the company’s first suborbital flight test in more than two years that was conducted on Saturday. Suffice to say, if the stars were located at the altitude that SpaceShipTwo actually reached (55.45 miles/89.2 km), they would take the sky away at the same time they burned the land and boiled the seas. Being suborbital, VSS Unity wouldn’t have helped anyone escape the inferno.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. So, let’s just put doomsday out of our minds. It’s time to break down what the flight test accomplished, what comes next, and why 27 months passed between powered flights. And what about Jeff Bezos?

Ready? Let’s go!

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