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Virgin Galactic aces final test spaceflight, eyes start of commercial service in June

Virgin Galactic aced its fifth test flight to suborbital space this morning (May 25), likely keeping the company on track to start commercial operations next month.

Today's mission, known as Unity 25, was Virgin Galactic's first trip to the final frontier since July 2021, when it sent up billionaire Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and several other passengers. But don't expect such a long gap between Unity 25 and the company's next spaceflight.

"We think if all this goes well, we'll be ready to fly our first commercial flight in June," Mike Moses, president of spaceline missions and safety at Virgin Galactic, told in a preflight call yesterday (May 24).

Success on spaceflight number 5

Virgin Galactic employs an air-launch system to take people and research payloads to suborbital space. That system currently consists of two operational vehicles: a two-pilot, six-passenger space plane named VSS Unity and a carrier aircraft known as VMS Eve.

Unity lifts off from a runway, carried aloft beneath Eve's wings. When Eve reaches an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters), it drops Unity, which then fires up its onboard rocket motor to zoom up to suborbital space.

Passengers aboard Unity get to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see Earth against the blackness of space before gliding back home for a runway landing.

Unity has now made this trip five times. ("Unity 25" refers to the total number of test flights the space plane has performed, which include captive-carry and glide flights in Earth's atmosphere.)

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