Visible in the background is the VMS Eve carrier aircraft, shortly after the release of VSS Unity, firing its engine and accelerating during the company’s fourth space flight test, Unity 22, with founder Richard Branson on July 11, 2021.
Virgin Galactic is already planning May 25 for the launch of its next spaceflight, which marks both the first in nearly two years since flight founder Sir Richard Branson and the planned final step before beginning commercial service.
Dubbed Unity 25, the mission marks the company’s fifth spaceflight to date and will depart from Spaceport America in New Mexico. It is a “final evaluation flight” with six Virgin Galactic staff on board for a short trip to the edge of space.
The update comes after a longer-than-expected period of sanitation for the company’s spacecraft: A few months after Branson’s flight and following an FAA investigation into a mishap during his voyage, the company suspended operations for a planned period of “eight until the process lasted.” 10 months – but in the end it lasted almost 16 months.
Virgin Galactic shares rose as much as 6% on Wednesday. The company announced first-quarter results earlier this month that showed mounting losses as it funds the development and expansion of its spacecraft fleet.
Sign up here to receive weekly editions of CNBC’s Investing in Space newsletter.
In-house pilots Mike Masucci and CJ Sturckow will pilot the VSS Unity spacecraft, while Jameel Janjua and Nicola Pecile will pilot the VMS Eve carrier aircraft. In the passenger cabin will be Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, as well as Astronaut Instructor Luke Mays, Chief Technical Officer Christopher Huie and Chief Internal Communications Manager Jamila Gilbert.
Virgin Galactic’s approach to space tourism is to fly to an altitude of about 40,000 feet, launch the spacecraft, and fire its engine to ascend over 80 kilometers (or about 262,000 feet) — the altitude the US considers Recognize the limits of space.
Known as suborbital, this type of spaceflight allows passengers a few minutes of weightlessness, in contrast to the much longer, more difficult, and more expensive orbital flights operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. After flying his own spacecraft in 2021, Branson told CNBC he hopes to fly with SpaceX.
Depending on the results and data collected by Unity 25, the company aims to fly its first commercial mission “late June”.