Following a two-year hiatus, billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism venture is getting ready to offer suborbital flights for space tourists in late June, pending one last test flight on Thursday.
Virgin Galactic is scheduled to launch the Unity 25 mission on Thursday at 10:00 a.m. ET from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The company isn’t live streaming its launch, but will be providing updates through its Twitter feed.
The mission is meant to “assess the customer experience and ground-based testing,” ahead of opening up its commercial operations to the public, according to Virgin Galactic. If all goes well for its final test flight, Virgin Galactic can begin offering private trips to the edge of space for paying customers in late June, the company wrote on its website.
The test flight will see Virgin Galactic’s VMS Eve carrier aircraft take off while carrying the VSS Unity spaceplane beneath its wings before releasing the spacecraft at an altitude of roughly 50,000 feet (15,000 meters) above the ground. Once released, the spaceplane will then fire its rocket engines and attempt to reach about 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface of Earth. That border altitude is considered to be the edge of space, while the internationally recognized boundary, known as the Karman Line, is 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the surface.
Accordingly, not all Unity 25 crew members will get to reach the edge of space. Six crew members will ride on board the Unity spaceplane, while two pilots will take the helm aboard the Eve aircraft. One seat on board the suborbital trip could cost around $450,000 and the company claims to already have 700 customers lined up to snag their spot, according to Space.com.
Branson himself hopped on board a Virgin Galactic flight to the edge of space back in July 2021. It was less than a perfect flight, however, as reports later suggested that the spaceplane veered off course during its ascent. An investigation into Branson’s flight concluded in September 2021, and the Federal Aviation Administration granted the company a license for commercial rocket launches.
There’s a lot riding on Thursday’s final test flight, which could see more of the world’s wealthiest passengers almost make their way to space.
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