Virgin Galactic to Launch Four People on Final Test Flight to Space Today

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Nearly two years after it launched its maiden flight to the edge of space, Virgin Galactic is all set for a big mission on Thursday. The Richard Branson-led company will launch six people into suborbital space on the final flight test. A Virgin Galactic spokeswoman said the mission should begin at 10 a.m. EDT (7 a.m. MDT, or 1300 GMT) at its commercial operations hub at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic plans to start commercial flights later this summer, but it needs this mission to validate its spaceflight system and astronaut experience. Nevertheless, shares of the company rose by 4 percent after its announcement on Monday, showing that there is still interest in a private space travel service.

On the flight named Unity 25, four Virgin Galactic employees will sit in the space plane’s passenger cabin, including Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor; Luke Mays, an engineer; Christopher Huie, senior engineering manager; and Jamila Gilbert, internal communications senior manager. Pilots Mike Masucci and CJ Sturckow will also fly the VSS Unity aircraft.

The spacecraft will be hauled to an altitude of about 50,000 feet by a larger carrier jet called VMS Eve, then dropped untethered and allowed to glide toward suborbital space. Once it is at that altitude, passengers will enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness. Then, they can look out the spacecraft’s windows at Earth’s curved horizon against the blackness of outer space before VSS Unity drops to a runway landing at Spaceport America.

It is the last chance for the company to make sure the spacecraft can handle the number of customers who have paid $200,000 to $250,000 each for a ticket. Virgin Galactic has a backlog of about 800 customers, with many having made their reservations more than a decade ago.

In a video released Wednesday, the Virgin Galactic team introduced the four launching into space on Thursday. The video includes clips of their training on simulators at the company’s Mojave facility in California and Spaceport America.

During the test flight, Virgin Galactic will be looking at everything from how VSS Unity performs in the high-altitude environment to whether the system can safely handle both the weight and acceleration of a fully loaded spaceship, which weighs about 15,000 pounds. The company will also conduct a full review of the safety system, including the flight controls and the avionics, which are both being upgraded, to ensure they can safely carry customers to space. The company also is reevaluating its plans for the sister company that focused on launching satellites into orbit, Virgin Orbit. That company filed for bankruptcy in April. This story was originally published by the Albuquerque Journal and is reproduced here with permission. Copyright 2023 Cable News Network, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Please use a link to the original article to notify us of any errors or to seek permission to publish.

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