One Last Time: VSS Unity Plans Final Launch for This Weekend

June 7, 2024
The spaceship's last commercial flight out of Spaceport America is Saturday. Then, it'll be all hands on deck for spaceflight company Virgin Galactic to continue crafting and fine-tuning its new Delta Class spaceships. The company plans to begin Delta test flights in 2025 and launch commercial service in 2026.

Jun. 6—It's almost time for VSS Unity to stand down. The spaceship's last commercial flight out of Spaceport America is Saturday.

Then, it'll be all hands on deck for spaceflight company Virgin Galactic to continue crafting and fine-tuning its new Delta Class spaceships. The company plans to begin Delta test flights in 2025 and launch commercial service in 2026.

Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement the final flight for VSS Unity is "an exciting and historic turning point for the business as we dedicate our resources fully to the production of our next-generation Delta spaceships."

The California-based company that operates in southern New Mexico anticipates the Delta ships could fly once or twice a week, compared to SpaceShipTwo-class VSS Unity's once-a-month limit, a Virgin Galactic spokesperson told the Journal. And, the spokesperson said, Delta ships will require less regular maintenance and inspections compared to Unity.

VSS Unity's final flight Saturday comes about eight years after the spaceship's first flight in September 2016. This weekend's launch is dubbed the "Galactic 07" mission.

It will be Virgin Galactic's second flight this year and 12th total.

This is also the first flight following some mechanical issues earlier this year. In January, an alignment pin detached from the mothership VMS Eve after the release of VSS Unity.

The Federal Aviation Administration has since approved Virgin Galactic's investigation report into the incident, and the company has taken corrective action to retain the mechanism of the pin, according to a May news release from Virgin Galactic.

VSS Unity will take off early Saturday morning, spending just a few minutes in space.

Virgin Galactic describes the spacecraft as a "suborbital science lab."

On the ship, autonomous payloads — scientific instruments — from Purdue University and University of California will collect information for research related to propellant slosh in fuel tanks of maneuvering spacecraft and 3D printing, respectively, according to Virgin Galactic.

An Axiom Space research astronaut — Tuva Atasever — also will be on board to conduct human-tendered experiments. Three other private astronauts will also be on the flight. Their names will be released after the flight along with the two commanders of the Virgin Galactic crew.

Seats cost around $450,000 per passenger. Virgin Galactic had revenue of $7 million in 2023, more than triple what it was the year before, and revenue of $2 million in the first quarter of 2024.

In advance of Saturday's launch, Virgin Galactic Spaceline President Mike Moses plans to give a media tour of Spaceport America and talk about the company's future as it continues gathering test data for the Delta fleet.

Virgin Galactic opened a system integration facility in southern California in early May to test the operation of Delta ships, according to the company, and final assembly will happen at a Virgin Galactic facility in Arizona.

"With this approach, Virgin Galactic is moving from a prototype to a production model of developing spaceships — shaving years off the development timeline we saw with VSS Unity," Moses said in a statement in May.

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(c)2024 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

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