Virgin Galactic’s passenger spaceflight operations are one step closer to happening. The company announced its plans to launch the next test spaceflight on July 11, pending weather and technical checks. What’s more, it will be the company’s first fully crewed spaceflight carrying two pilots and four mission specialists, including founder, Sir Richard Branson.
The “Unity 22” mission will be the 20-second flight test for VSS Unity and marks the company’s fourth crewed spaceflight.
Building on the success of the company’s most recent spaceflight in May, “Unity 22” will focus on cabin and customer experience objectives. It will evaluate the commercial customer cabin with a full crew, including the cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience, and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers. It will also demonstrate the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments and confirming the training program at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience.
For the first time, Virgin Galactic will share a global livestream of the spaceflight. Audiences around the world can participate virtually in the “Unity 22” test flight and see first-hand the experience. The livestream will be available to watch on VirginGalactic.com and will be simulcast on the Virgin Galactic Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook channels. It is expected to begin at 9 a.m. EDT on the day of the flight.
The flight’s four mission specialists will be:
- Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor at Virgin Galactic. Moses will serve as cabin lead and test director in space, overseeing the safe and efficient execution of the test flight objectives.
- Colin Bennett, lead operations engineer at Virgin Galactic. Bennett will evaluate cabin equipment, procedures, and experience during both the boost phase and in the weightless environment.
- Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations at Virgin Galactic. Bandla will be evaluating the human-tended research experience, using an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes that will be activated at various points in the flight profile.
- Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic. Branson will evaluate the private astronaut experience and will undergo the same training, preparation and flight as Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts. The company will use his observations from his flight training and spaceflight experience to enhance the journey for all future astronaut customers.
The pilots for this mission are Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci flying VSS Unity, and CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer flying VMS Eve.
Following this flight, and in line with normal procedures, the team will complete inspections of the vehicles and an extensive data review, which will inform the next steps in the test flight program. Two additional test flights are planned before the company expects to commence commercial service in 2022.