Virgin Galactic’s ‘Galactic 07’ flight marks the final outing for VSS Unity, as the company makes way for next-generation Delta spacecraft. Olivia Palamountain reports

Virgin Galactic has announced that the flight window for its upcoming “Galactic 07” mission will open on June 8, 2024, marking the company’s second spaceflight of the year and its 12th overall.

For this mission, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceship will be converted into a suborbital science lab, carrying an Axiom Space affiliated researcher astronaut who will conduct multiple human-tended experiments.

Additionally, autonomous payloads from Purdue University and UC Berkeley, supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities programme, will be on board.

The mission aims to showcase Virgin Galactic’s ability to provide a flexible microgravity research platform, benefiting both space exploration initiatives and innovations on Earth.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, says: “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.”

The announcement follows the FAA‘s approval of Virgin Galactic’s investigation into the cause of an alignment pin that detached from VMS Eve following the release of VSS Unity during the “Galactic 06” mission on January 26, 2024.

The FAA has accepted Virgin Galactic’s final investigation report and the corrective actions taken to enhance the retention mechanism of the pin and the addition of a secondary retention mechanism.

The hybrid research and private astronaut crew for “Galactic 07” will include an Axiom Space Research Astronaut, along with three private astronauts hailing from California, New York and Italy.

The Virgin Galactic crew will consist of VSS Unity Commander Nicola Pecile, pilot Jameel Janjua, VMS Eve Commander Andy Edgell and pilot CJ Sturckow.

Tejpaul Bhatia, chief revenue officer of Axiom Space, says: “Axiom Space’s commitment to enabling access to space and providing opportunities for scientific discovery beyond Earth aligns closely with Virgin Galactic’s mission. We are very excited about this upcoming ‘Galactic 07’ flight; stay tuned for more on our groundbreaking research and astronaut participant as we get closer to June 8.”

The autonomous rack-mounted research payloads will include a Purdue University experiment designed to study propellant slosh in fuel tanks of manoeuvring spacecraft and a UC Berkeley payload testing a new type of 3D printing.

Virgin Galactic has been flying payloads for NASA’s Flight Opportunities programme since the company’s first spaceflight in 2018 and was recently selected by NASA as a contracted flight provider for the next five years.

As Virgin Galactic continues to push the boundaries of commercial spaceflight, the “Galactic 07” mission promises to be another milestone in the company’s journey to provide valuable research opportunities and unforgettable experiences for its crew and passengers.