Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company owned by Richard Branson, said today (May 8) it will begin flying paying customers to suborbital space in June, with a final test mission scheduled in late May. The long-awaited confirmation of commercial service rollout came almost two years after Branson flew to space himself in the company’s first full-crew test flight in July 2021.
The final test mission, called Unity 25, will fly four Virgin Galactic employees—two women and two men—using a VSS Unity spacecraft to about 55 miles in the sky for a 90-minute trip.
The company said the passengers were selected “for their diverse expertise, each bringing a different skillset to validating our astronaut training program and the flight experience itself. The four passengers are:
Luke Mays, Virgin Galactic’s astronaut instructor and a former operations director at NASA.
Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor. She was also aboard the test flight in July 2021 with Branson and four other Virgin employees.
Chris Huie, Virgin Galactic’s flight sciences engineer. Huie is a son of Jamaican immigrants and will be the 19th Black astronaut in the world.
- Jamila Gilbert, a communication manager at Virgin Galactic. She is Latina with Purépechan-Mexican roots and will join the first 100 women to go to space by the time Unity 25 takes off.
Virgin Galactic’s commercial flight faced repeated delays
Virgin Galactic initially aimed to begin commercial service shortly after Branson’s test flight in July 2021. But technical challenges and financial woes caused significant delays. The company’s stock has lost 90 percent of its value since its peak in June 2021 and is down 50 percent since its IPO in March 2018.
In 2022, Virgin Galactic reported a $500 million loss on just $2.3 million of revenue. The company’s main revenue source so far is reservation fees for its suborbital flights sold for $450,000 per seat. Virgin said it has about 800 customers who have put down a deposit.