The countdown has begun at Virgin Galactic’s “Gateway to Space” operations center in southern New Mexico, where the company expects to fly six crew members into suborbit this morning.
The VMS Eve mothership is expected to takeoff from the Spaceport America runway at 8 a.m. with the six-passenger VSS Unity rocketship attached to its underbelly.
Assuming the flight proceeds uninterrupted, Eve will carry Unity to about 50,000 feet, at which point the spaceship will break away from the carrier plane and fire up its rocket motors to shoot into space, allowing the four mission specialists in Unity’s six-seat passenger cabin to float for a few minutes in microgravity and view the Earth below before the ship glides back down to the spaceport runway.
It will be Unity’s fifth flight into suborbit since 2019, and its first time in two years returning to space, following company founder Sir Richard Branson’s historic spaceflight in July 2021.
The company took an 18-month hiatus after that for maintenance and upgrades to both Eve and Unity to improve durability and reliability before initiating the company’s long-awaited commercial flights for paying passengers.
If all goes well in this final in-house crew flight, the company plans to launch commercial service in late June, first flying an Italian Air Force Crew to space for research and training, and then initiating regular monthly flights for space tourists starting sometime later this summer.
The company announced early this week that a nine-hour flight window would open on May 25, providing the first flight opportunity today for the Unity crew. But if today’s flight gets scrubbed for any reason, there’s still another flight window available on Friday as a potential backup.
This morning’s mission could take about 90 minutes from takeoff to landing, with Unity breaking away from Eve to shoot into space about 50 minutes after the carrier plane departs from the spaceport runway.
The company won’t be live streaming the flight, but it will provide regular updates throughout the morning on Twitter.
The Journal will post its own updates on flight progress as the mission unfolds.