Sir Richard Branson is set to fly into space on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity on July 11.
If Virgin Galactic meets the flight window for its next rocket-powered test flight, pending weather and technical checks, Branson will beat fellow billionaire, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos into space. Bezos and his brother Mark are set to fly into space oon board Blue Origin on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on July 20.
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 programme at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience
Global livestream of first crewed flight
Virgin Galactic will also share a global livestream of the spaceflight. Audiences around the world will be invited to participate virtually in the Unity 22 test flight to see the Virgin Galactic experience for future astronauts. The livestream will be available to watch on Virgin Galactic.com and will be simulcast on the Virgin Galactic Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook channels. It is expected to begin at 7:00 am MDT / 9:00 am EDT on the day of the flight.
The pilots for the mission are Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci flying VSS Unity, and CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer flying VMS Eve.The crew on board Unity 22 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, founder of Virgin Galactic. 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 team will complete post-flight inspections of the vehicles and a data review, which will inform the next steps in the test flight programme. Two additional test flights are planned before the company expects to commence commercial service in 2022.
Branson: “Space flight belongs to all of us”
Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “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. 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.”
Sir Richard Branson said: “I truly believe that space 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 space to humankind and change the world for good. 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. 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.”