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Virgin Galactic’s Flys Final VSS Unity Commercial Mission

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane has successfully completed its final commercial mission, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter for the company.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Sun Jun 09 2024Written by Zac Aubert

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane has successfully completed its final commercial mission, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter for the company. The mission, known as Galactic 07, carried a Turkish research astronaut and three private astronauts on a suborbital spaceflight.

VSS Unity, attached to its VMS Eve mothership aircraft, departed from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico at 10:31 a.m. Eastern. The spaceplane released from Eve at 11:26 a.m. Eastern, following a typical suborbital trajectory that reached an altitude of 87.5 kilometers. The mission concluded with a smooth landing back at the spaceport at 11:41 a.m. Eastern.

Galactic 07's notable passenger, Tuva Atasever, a Turkish research astronaut, was backed by Axiom Space, which previously flew Turkish astronaut Alper Gezeravcı to the International Space Station in January as part of the Ax-3 private astronaut mission. Atasever, the backup for that mission, conducted seven experiments during the suborbital flight. Additionally, the vehicle carried automated payloads from Purdue University and the University of California Berkeley, facilitated by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.

The three private astronauts on this mission were:

  • Andy Sadhwani, a principal propulsion engineer at SpaceX with a research background at NASA and Stanford University.

  • Irving Pergament, a New York real estate developer and private pilot.

  • Giorgio Manenti, an Italian investment manager residing in London.

Unity was commanded by Nicola Pecile, undertaking his fourth flight, and piloted by Jameel Janjua, who was on his maiden spaceflight. This mission marked Unity's seventh commercial flight and its 12th flight overall.

“This is the final flight for Unity, but that’s not the end of the story....A whole new chapter is about to start with us.” - Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic Spaceline President

The retirement of Unity, the second SpaceShipTwo vehicle constructed by Virgin Galactic, is part of the company’s strategy to conserve financial resources, which stood at approximately $1 billion last November, and focus on the new Delta series of vehicles. These new vehicles promise higher flight rates and reduced operating costs, crucial for Virgin Galactic’s business model.

The Delta-class vehicle will closely resemble Unity in appearance.

“But the real change is what’s under the hood, so to speak, in how it was designed, how it was built and how it’s operated,” - Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic Spaceline President

“We want to take advantage of all the maturation work that has been done on the Unity spaceship for Delta. We only want to invent that which really needs to be invented.” - Steve Justice, Senior Vice President of Spaceline Programs and Engineering at Virgin Galactic

This innovation involves new composite materials and advanced manufacturing techniques, allowing for higher production rates and cost efficiency. Key components will be built by contractors, with final assembly and ground tests conducted at a new facility in Mesa, Arizona, near Phoenix. Components for the first two Delta-class vehicles are expected to start arriving at the Arizona facility later this year and early next year.

Virgin Galactic plans to initiate flight tests by late 2025, with commercial service beginning in 2026.

“Unity broke ground and demonstrated what is possible...Delta is going to be revolutionary.” - Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic Spaceline President

“It is kind of sad to see Unity fly on its last commercial flight,” noting that this flight occurred almost 20 years after Unity’s predecessor, SpaceShipOne, made its first flight. “But our efforts are really working on the next generation.” - Nicola Pecile, Unity Commander

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, who attended the Galactic 07 mission and flew on Unity in July 2021, reaffirmed his commitment to the company's vision of enabling thousands and thousands of people to experience spaceflight.

“That’s the aim of Virgin Galactic. Other people have aims of going to Mars, which is equally absolutely and utterly extraordinary. But what we want to do is enable many people to experience what our astronauts experienced today.” - Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic

As VSS Unity retires, Virgin Galactic looks forward to the future with the Delta series, setting the stage for a new era in commercial space travel.