Virgin Galactic is targeting as early as May 25 for the launch of its next spaceflight, which marks both its first in nearly two years since flying founder Sir Richard Branson and its planned last step before beginning commercial service.
Called Unity 25, the mission represents the company’s fifth spaceflight to date, launching out of Spaceport America in New Mexico. It is a “final assessment” flight, with six Virgin Galactic employees onboard for a short trip to the edge of space.
The update comes after a longer-than-expected refurbishment period for the company’s spacecraft: A couple months after Branson’s flight, and following an FAA investigation into a mishap during his trip, the company paused operations for what was intended to be an “eight to 10 months” process – but ended up taking nearly 16 months instead.
Shares of Virgin Galactic rose nearly 7% Wednesday to close at $4.50 apiece. The company reported first-quarter results earlier this month that revealed widening losses as it funds development and expansion of its spacecraft fleet.
In-house pilots will fly Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft and carrier aircraft on May 25. The sub-orbital spaceflight will take passengers to an altitude of about 262,000 feet, giving them a couple of minutes of weightlessness. The company plans to conduct its first commercial mission in late June, depending on the outcome of this flight.