SPACEPORT AMERICA, N.M. (KRQE) – Virgin Galactic is just hours away from sending another crew of astronauts to suborbital space over New Mexico. The space tourism company’s window for its second fully-crewed spaceflight is slated to open tomorrow on Thursday, May 25.
In a statement Wednesday, the company says the spaceflight “is a go” with Unity 25 scheduled to take off around 8 a.m. MDT. Its been nearly two years since Virgin Galactic has sent its own astronauts into weightlessness. In 2021, the company celebrated its first successful fully crewed flight with company’s founder Sir Richard Branson on board.
Thursday’s anticipated test flight is likely to be a more low-key event than the space company’s last showing at Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequence, New Mexico. Hundreds of spectators and journalists gathered at the state-owned facility in July 2021 to witness the spectacle surrounding the company’s groundbreaking flight.
This time, Virgin is telling people to follow the company on Twitter for live updates on flight day. Crews have spent the last several days training, as seen in some behind the scenes video released by Virgin Galactic Wednesday.
The crew slated for the VSS Unity’s latest test flight includes native New Mexican, Jamila Gilbert, among three other “mission specialists” and four pilots between the spacecraft and its carrier aircraft. The company says the crew will focus on “a final assessment of the full spaceflight system and astronaut experience before commercial service opens in late June .”
Leading up to the planned flight, Virgin successfully conducted a glide flight with the VSS (Virgin Spaceship) Unity in April. That test marked the first time the spaceship had independently flown through New Mexico skies since the 2021 event. The 2021 test flight was followed with a months long maintenance program where Virgin crews upgraded several systems on the VMS (Virgin Mothership) Eve, the carrier aircraft that takes the VSS Unity to 50,000 feet elevation before the spaceship is released, then rockets to space.
The Friday test flight, according to Virgin, should be the last step the company says it needs to take before beginning commercial service. The first commercial flight, Galactic 01 is slated to take off in late June. As of the end of 2022, Virgin said it had collected approximately 800 spaceflight tickets worth $101 million in deposits and fees from “future astronauts.”