Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by billionaire Richard Branson, announced that it is ready to enter commercial service in June after a successful flight to the edge of space on Thursday. The mission, called Unity 25, marked the company’s return to operations after a nearly two-year hiatus.
The flight began with the VMS Eve aircraft departing from the launch site in New Mexico with a crew of six and two pilots. Over an hour later, the VSS Unity spaceplane was dropped from the wing of the jet, ascending to suborbital space at an altitude of 44,500 feet. The entire mission, from takeoff to landing, lasted approximately 90 minutes.
Although the Unity 25 mission was not broadcasted, Virgin Galactic provided updates through social media, while NASA Spaceflight unofficially livestreamed the flight on its platforms. The crew included Virgin Galactic employees, and the spaceplane was piloted by experienced professionals.
Virgin Galactic’s CEO, Michael Colglazier, expressed his confidence in the astronaut experience the company has created for its customers, highlighting the joy of the crew upon landing. With the successful flight, Virgin Galactic has achieved its main objectives of evaluating the spacecraft and astronaut training, paving the way for commercial operations.
The company aims to conduct commercial flights as early as next month and has already secured a contract with the Italian Air Force to carry three officers on a research mission. Virgin Galactic has faced technical and regulatory challenges in the past, but the recent achievement marks a significant milestone for the company.
Virgin Galactic plans to utilize its Delta-class suborbital spaceplanes for weekly flights, offering space tourism experiences to customers at a ticket price of around $450,000. While the company has encountered setbacks and financial hurdles, it retains substantial runway with approximately $1 billion in funding.
It is important to note that Virgin Galactic should not be confused with Virgin Orbit, another company founded by Branson, which is currently undergoing bankruptcy proceedings. Virgin Galactic focuses on space tourism, while Virgin Orbit aims to launch small spacecraft payloads into orbit.