The Virgin Galactic spaceplane, VSS Unity, took off from Spaceport America, New Mexico, USA, at 15:15 UTC, on May 25th, 2023, reaching an altitude of approximately 13.600 meters attached to its mothership, VMS Eve.
The command “Release! Release! Release!” was given, detaching VSS Unity and allowing Commander Mike Masucci to ignite its RocketMotorTwo for approximately 70 seconds. Thanks to the 310 kN of thrust, it reached an apogee of 87,2 km, just above the American limit of space.
The six-person crew enjoyed a spectacular view of the Earth while experiencing a zero-g condition. Through a gliding re-entry, the vehicle managed to return its crew to Spaceport America around 16:37 UTC, followed a few minutes later by VMS Eve, marking the end of the mission.
Unity 25 mission objective: final assessment of the full spaceflight system before the first commercial flight.
The Unity 22 mission in July 2021 (the famous Richard Branson flight into space) was supposed to be the final test mission before the very first commercial flight.
Unfortunately, issues with the descent trajectory, communication problems with the FAA, and technical defects forced VSS Unity and VMS Eve to the ground for almost two years.
The company fixed the communication procedures with FAA and began an extended period of vehicle maintenance, that ended in mid-February 2023.
The changes were so significant that a new and complete trial flight was necessary before starting with commercial activities. That flight was the Unity 25 mission, designed to test all the new procedures, the technical improvements, and the astronauts’ entire experience.
To reach all these goals, the crew was chosen made by 2 VMS Eve pilots (Commander Jameel Janjua, Italian pilot Nicola Pecile), 2 VSS Unity pilots (Commander Mike Masucci, Pilot CJ Sturckow), and 4 astronauts:
- Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor and developer of VG Astronaut Training Program
- Luke Mays, a newest Astronaut Instructor
- Christopher Huie, Mission Specialist
- Jamila Gilbert, Mission Specialist
The spaceflight was a success, is this a green light for the first commercial flight?
As stated by Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight of mission Unity 25 was a success. However, this may not be enough for Virgin Galactic to move forward with its business plan. First, the company must check if the ships behaved as expected, without showing old or new defects.
Then, they must review all the information collected during the flight, especially the descent data of VSS Unity. A very important check will be whether VSS Unity was able to fly in its assigned airspace and, if there were any deviations, whether the company was able to properly communicate with the FAA.
Today's #Unity25 spaceflight is the last step in our flight test program. Up next:— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) May 25, 2023
– Our team will complete inspections of the vehicles & review data in the coming weeks.
– We'll begin commercial service with the ‘Galactic 01’ mission.
More → https://t.co/zp2BbeRlDp
If no relevant issues appear, Galactic 1, the first commercial research mission, could finally be planned for the joy of the next astronauts and of the stockholders, who suffered a lot after Unity 22 partial failure (the stock has dropped around 95% of its value since then).
Even if no official confirmation has been released by the company, Galactic 1 should be the flight purchased in 2022 by the Italian Air Force, named Unity 23 at the moment of its announcement.