Countdown to launch: Five things to know about Virgin Galactic's next spaceflight - Albuquerque Journal

Countdown to launch: Five things to know about Virgin Galactic’s next spaceflight

When will it launch?

The Unity’s upcoming launch window opens on Thursday, May 25, marking Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico since company founder Sir Richard Branson flew to space in July 2021.

What has Virgin Galactic done since its last launch two years ago?

The company has made significant maintenance upgrades and enhancements to the spaceship VSS Unity and the mothership, VMS Eve, to improve vehicle durability and reliability before initiating tourist flights for paying passengers.

Under Virgin Galactic’s flight system, VMS Eve carries the spaceship to about 50,000 feet, at which point Unity breaks away from the mothership and fires up its rocket motors to shoot into suborbit, allowing passengers in the ship’s six-seat cabin to float for a few minutes in microgravity and view the Earth’s curvature before returning to the spaceport.

The crew

Unity’s upcoming flight includes two pilots and four mission specialists who will evaluate the overall passenger experience and perform a “final assessment” of the full spaceflight system before the company’s long-awaited commercial service begins in late June.

Who are the pilots?

In-house pilots Mike Masucci and CJ Sturckow will fly spacecraft VSS Unity, while Jameel Janjua and Nicola Pecile will fly carrier aircraft VMS Eve.

Passengers are mission specialists:

  • Christopher Huie — son of Jamaican immigrants and soon to be the world’s 19th Black astronaut – who joined Virgin Galactic in 2016 as a flight sciences engineer and co-founded the company’s Black Leaders in Aerospace Scholarship and Training, or BLAST, program.
  • Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor who developed Virgin Galactic’s astronaut training program and became the first woman to fly to suborbit aboard a commercial space vehicle on a Virgin Galactic flight in early 2021.
  • Luke Mays, who joined Virgin Galactic this year after previously training astronauts at NASA.
  • Jamila Gilbert, the only non-engineer mission specialist, is a communications professional and artist who studied museum conservation, anthropology and linguistics at New Mexico State University. The New Mexico native speaks four languages — English, Spanish, German and Italian — and works as Sr. Manager of Internal Communications at Virgin Galactic, which she joined in 2019.

Her inclusion on the Unity flight provides diversity regarding the individual perspectives of team members to round out the mission goal of assessing future spaceflight experience for passengers on upcoming commercial flights.

“Jamila will bring a different perspective from pilots and engineers who have flown before her,” the company said when announcing this month’s Unity flight. “Jamila doesn’t come from a technical or engineering background, making her well placed to evaluate our customer readiness program.”

This photo provided by Virgin Galactic shows SpaceShipTwo Unity being released from the carrier mothership, VMS Eve for a successful glide flight in June 2020.


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