Virgin Galactic to retire VSS Unity from commercial flights

Upcoming 'Galactic 07' will be the last paying passenger flight until 2026

Virgin Galactic will look to reignite its commercial spaceflight operations next month, revealing plans for a hybrid research/private astronaut crew for ‘Galactic 07’.

The listed company this week announced a launch window will open on 8 June 2024 for the next flight, which will also be Virgin Galactic’s 12th to date. The most recent commercial airlift was on 26 January 2024 – just shy of 100 calendar days ago.

The flight will however be the last for Virgin Galactic’s paying passengers for the foreseeable future, as the company turns its focus to the new, larger Delta class space vehicle fleet.

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For the upcoming flight, the spaceship will be covered into a suborbital science lab, with USS Unity carrying an Axiom Space affiliated researcher astronaut will will conduct a number “human-tended experiments”.

In addition, Purdue University and UC Berkeley will have autonomous payloads on board, supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. This mission showcases Virgin Galactic’s ability to provide a flexible microgravity research platform, benefiting further space exploration initiatives as well as innovations on Earth.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, remarked: “Discovery and innovation are central to our mission at Virgin Galactic.”

“We’re excited to build on our successful record of facilitating scientific experiments in suborbital space, and we look forward to continuing to expand our role in suborbital research going forward ‘Galactic 07’ will also mark and celebrate VSS Unity’s final commercial flight – an exciting and historic turning point for the business as we dedicate our resources fully to the production of our next-generation Delta spaceships, on track for commercial service in 2026.”

Credit: Virgin Galactic

“Axiom Space’s commitment to enabling access to space and providing opportunities for scientific discovery beyond Earth aligns closely with Virgin Galactic’s mission,” said Tejpaul Bhatia, Chief Revenue Officer of Axiom Space.

In addition to the two Virgin Galactic pilots and the Researcher Astronaut, onboard ‘Galactic 07’ will be three private astronauts from California, New York and Italy.

The long pause between Galactic 06 and the announcement of Galactic 07 was due to an FAA investigation surrounding the detachment of an alignment pin from VMS Eve, following the release of the transporter during the ‘Galactic 06’ mission.

“The FAA has accepted Virgin Galactic’s final investigation report, as well as the corrective actions that have been made to enhance the retention mechanism of the pin and the addition of a secondary retention mechanism,” Virgin Galactic stated.

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