Virgin Galactic’s Research Mission Reached Space [UPDATED]20th Oct 2023
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, a reusable spaceplane, embarked on its fifth commercial spaceflight yesterday (Nov. 2). This flight marked Virgin Galactic’s tenth journey to the edge of space and its fifth commercial venture.
UPDATED 3 Nov
Virgin Galactic’s Unity took off from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT; 9 a.m. local time), released from its carrier plane, VMS Eve, at an altitude of about 44,701 feet.
After about two minutes of weightlessness, Unity landed back on Earth at Spaceport America at approximately 11:59 a.m. EDT (1559 GMT; 9:59 a.m. local time). Galactic 05 concluded Virgin Galactic’s flights for 2023, with a vehicle inspection planned before the next scheduled flight in January 2024.
Last month Virgin Galactic concluded its Galactic 04 mission, featuring private astronauts from the U.S., U.K., and Pakistan. In August, the Galactic 02 mission made history by taking the second-youngest person ever to space and the first mother-daughter duo.
Despite these achievements, Virgin Galactic’s shares have seen a 52.4% decline in 2023, contrasting with the S&P 500 index’s gain of 11.9%. However, shares of Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. climbed 11.4% Thursday as the company’s Galactic 05 research mission reached space.
The Crew and Other Details
The mission crew Includes planetary scientist Alan Stern and aerospace and defense professional Kellie Gerardi. The mission crew will also include what the company has described as a private astronaut of Franco-Italian nationality.
Stern, having been NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate in the past, is set to fly and evaluate a harness utilized for collecting biomedical data. He will also rehearse tasks for an astronomical experiment for a future suborbital flight.
On the other hand, Gerardi, representing the IIAS (International Institute for Astronautical Sciences), will assess a biomonitoring gadget while performing an astrophysical hydrodynamics experiment.
In a Virgin Galactic statement, Stern, who has overseen many spaceflight missions for several years, revealed that he is looking forward to traveling to space himself.
“What sets this flight apart from others, and which likely represents a new kind of space activity, is that more than anything else, I will be training in space — for future space experiments I will be performing with NASA funding.”
Gerardi stated that the space mission represents the start of a new age where space is increasingly accessible for researchers like her.
“I’m grateful for the support and confidence that IIAS continues to place in me, and I’m looking forward to paving the way for our many talented researchers who will follow, using space as a laboratory to benefit humanity,” Gerardi stated.
Virgin Galactic’s Focus on Suborbital Research
Virgin Galactic views suborbital research as a potentially more profitable alternative to space tourism. CEO Michael Colglazier has expressed excitement for the upcoming spaceflight.
“Insights from this flight will be used to enhance and refine the research capabilities of our future Delta fleet,” he revealed in a company statement.
Besides Stern and Gerardi, the research mission crew will include Mike Masucci as the commander and Kelly Latimer as the pilot. Colin Bennet will take on the role of the astronaut instructor.
According to the company, the Galactic 05 mission will be the last to have an astronaut instructor. The Galactic 06 mission and other future flights will carry four private astronauts.