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Virgin Galactic announces first fully crewed spaceflight

by Stuart Ibberson, editor
The flight window for the next test flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity opens July 11. The company made the announcement July 1.

The “Unity 22” mission will be the 22nd flight test for VSS Unity and the company’s fourth crewed spaceflight. It will also be the first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists in the cabin.

“Our next flight — the 22nd flight test for VSS Unity and our first fully crewed flight test — is a testament to the dedication and technical brilliance of our entire team, and I’d like to extend a special thank you to our pilots and mission specialists, each of whom will be performing important work,” said Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier. “Tapping into Sir Richard’s expertise and long history of creating amazing customer experiences will be invaluable as we work to open the wonder of space travel and create awe-inspiring journeys for our customers.”

The flight will also include Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson, who will be testing the private astronaut experience.

“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” said Branson. “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 space to humankind and change the world for good.”

Building on the success of the company’s most recent spaceflight in May, Unity 22 will focus on cabin and customer experience objectives, including:

* Evaluating the commercial customer cabin with a full crew, including the cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience, and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers — all to ensure every moment of the astronaut’s journey maximizes the wonder and awe created by space travel
* Demonstrating the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments
* Confirming the training program at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience

VSS Unity in space over New Mexico during a prior flight. (Virgin Galactic photograph)

For the first time, Virgin Galactic will share a global livestream of the spaceflight. Audiences around the world are invited to participate virtually in the Unity 22 test flight and see first-hand the extraordinary experience Virgin Galactic is creating for future astronauts. The livestream will be available on Virgin Galactic.com and will be simulcast on the Virgin Galactic Twitter, YouTube and Facebook channels. It is expected to begin at 7 a.m., MDT.on the day of the flight.

The flight’s four mission specialists will be:

* Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor at Virgin Galactic. Moses will serve as cabin lead and test director in space, overseeing the safe and efficient execution of the test flight objectives.
* Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer at Virgin Galactic. Bennett will evaluate cabin equipment, procedures, and experience during both the boost phase and in the weightless environment.
* Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic. Bandla will be evaluating the human-tended research experience, using an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes that will be activated at various points in the flight profile.
* Sir Richard Branson. Branson will evaluate the private astronaut experience and will undergo the same training, preparation and flight as Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts. The company will use his observations from his flight training and spaceflight experience to enhance the journey for all future astronaut customers.

The pilots for this mission are Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci flying VSS Unity, and CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer flying VMS Eve.

Following this flight, and in line with normal procedures, the team will complete inspections of the vehicles and an extensive data review, which will inform the next steps in the test flight program. Two additional test flights are planned before the Company expects to commence commercial service in 2022.

“It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality,” said Branson. “As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”

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