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Virgin Galactic Schedules Final Flight Test for May 25

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 17, 2023
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Virgin Galactic Schedules Final Flight Test for May 25
Crew for VSS Unity’s final flight test.
Image credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is set to conduct the first suborbital flight of its VSS Unity spacecraft in nearly two years on May 25. The flight test, to be held at Spaceport America in New Mexico will be the final one before the company begins carrying paying passengers late next month.

Mission commander Mike Masucci and pilot CJ Sturckow will fly four Virgin Galactic employees to the edge of space. Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve mothership is scheduled to take off at 10 AM EDT (1400 UTC).

Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses will be making her third suborbital flight aboard VSS Unity. She will be joined in the passenger cabin by three rookies, including Astronaut Instructor Luke Mays, Flight Sciences Engineer Chris Huie, and New Mexico native Jamila Gilbert. They will evaluate the passenger experience during the flight.

Jameel Janjua will serve as commander of the VMS Eve carrier aircraft that will air launch the space plane. Nicola Pecile will serve as pilot.

If the final test goes well, Virgin Galactic will then fly Italian Air Force pilots Col. Walter Villadei and Lt. Col. Angelo Landolfi, and the Italian National Research Council’s Pantaleone Carlucci on the company’s first commercial passenger flight at the end of June. Moses will join them in the passenger cabin on the research mission.

Virgin Galactic has previously earned revenue from flying microgravity experiments in the cabin without any researchers aboard. The Italian flight will be the first time that paying passengers will be aboard the spaceship.

In the third quarter, Virgin Galactic will begin to fly the first of around 800 ticket holders, some of whom put down deposits beginning in 2005. Seats originally sold for $200,000, but Virgin Galactic raised the price to $250,000 in 2013, and then to $450,000 in 2022.

Company officials have said they expect VSS Unity to fly on a once-per-month basis with up to four passengers per flight. The advanced Delta-class SpaceShipTwo vehicles, which are set to begin commercial flights in 2026, are being designed to fly on a weekly basis with six passengers.

VSS Unity‘s last powered flight test was on July 11, 2021. It carried company Founder Richard Branson, Moses, and two company employees to test the astronaut experience.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded VSS Unity for more than a month because the spacecraft veered outside of its assigned airspace during the flight. Virgin Galactic then took the space plane and its VMS Eve mothership out of service for a series of modifications. VSS Unity completed a glide flight on April 26 to test the modifications.

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