Virgin Galactic introduces the Unity 22 crew
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Virgin Galactic will launch its first fully crewed mission to the edge of space on Sunday, July 11. If all goes according to plan, Sir Richard Branson, 70, will beat former Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to the finish line – the latter is due to fly into space with Blue Origin just nine days later.
Virgin Galactic’s upcoming mission has been officially dubbed Unity 22 and marks the company’s fourth crewed flight.
This time around, however, it will be the first test flight to carry a full crew of two pilots and four flight specialists.
The crew will launch aboard the SpaceShipTwo Unity spacecraft from Spaceport America – Virgin Galactic’s base of operation in New Mexico, US.
Announcing his participation in the mission last week, Sir Richard said his space tourism company stands on the brink of a spaceflight revolution.
Much like the competing company Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic aims to bring relatively affordable spaceflight to the masses.
Sir Richard said: “I truly believe that spaceflight belongs to all of us.
“After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open humankind and change the world for good.”
For now, however, the promise of becoming an astronaut – even temporarily – is out of reach for most.
Customers who have already secured their tickets are reported to have paid up to £181,000 ($250,000) for the privilege of experiencing weightlessness for a few minutes.
But the good news is you can, at the very least, watch the Virgin Galactic launch live online this weekend.
What time will Virgin Galactic launch on Sunday?
The mission is presently pencilled in to launch on Sunday, July 11.
But the launch date may yet change, pending weather forecasts and safety checks.
Should everything go according to plan, however, SpaceShipTwo Unity will blast off just after 2pm BST (9am EDT/7am MDT/6am PST), based on previous test flights.
Virgin Galactic’s live broadcast of the mission will kick off at 2pm BST (9am EDT/7am MDT/6am PST).
The mission will kick off with SpaceShipTwo Unity launching from Spaceport America, strapped to the VMS Eve aircraft.
After reaching an altitude of about 10 miles (15km), after which the spacecraft will detach and engage its rocket engine to coast into suborbital space.
The spacecraft will soar up to an altitude of about 56 miles (90km) where the passengers will have a chance to experience weightlessness for about four minutes.
According to the US Air Force and NASA, 50 miles up is the boundary o space, although some consider the Karman Line, 62 miles up (100km), to be the true boundary of space.
Unity’s pilots will then guide the spacecraft back to Earth, targetting a landing strip at Spaceport America.
Joining Sir Richard on the mission are three flight specialists and two pilots.
The pilots are Dave Mackay, a former RAF test pilot-turned-British Chief Pilot of Virgin Galactic, and Michael Masucci, the Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot.
They are joined by Beth Moses, the chief astronaut instructor at Virgin Galactic, and Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer.
The fourth flight specialist is Sirisha Bandla, the Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations.
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