Virgin Galactic performs fourth commercial suborbital flight

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity lands at Spaceport America Oct. 6 at the end of the Galactic 04 mission. Credit: Spaceport America

By Jeff Foust,
Published by SpaceNews, 6 October 2023

WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic continued its monthly cadence of commercial suborbital spaceflights Oct. 6, carrying three customers that included the first person from Pakistan to go to space.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity, took off from Spaceport America attached to its VMS Eve mothership at 11:28 a.m. Eastern. VSS Unity released from the plane at 12:10 p.m. Eastern, flying to an apogee of 87.5 kilometers before gliding back to a runway landing at the spaceport.

As with the previous flight, Galactic 03 on Sept. 8, Virgin Galactic did not provide a live broadcast, limiting itself to social media updates. Those updates themselves were published on a time delay: one post announcing ignition of the vehicle’s hybrid rocket motor was published at least 12 minutes after ignition, based on the timestamps in the images included with the post.

On board VSS Unity were three customers: Ron Rosano, Treavor Beattie and Namira Salim. The company did not release the customers’ names in advance of the flight, but all three disclosed their participation in the days leading up to the flight.

Rosano is an American who is involved in space education and also works for a property management company. Beattie is a British advertising executive and film producer who, according to a Virgin Galactic biography, accompanied company founder Richard Branson to a SpaceShipOne flight in 2004 and signed up for a Virgin Galactic flight “on the spot.” Salim, an adventurer and entrepreneur, is the first person from Pakistan to go to space, although she now lives in Monaco and Dubai.

VSS Unity was commanded by Kelly Latimer and piloted by CJ Sturckow. Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor, also flew in the cabin with the customers, as on Virgin’s previous commercial flights.

The flight was the fourth for VSS Unity since the company started commercial service in late June. The company said it planned to maintain a monthly flight cadence for the foreseeable future, slowly working through its backlog of about 800 customers, some of whom paid deposits for their tickets more than 15 years ago.

“Our teams in New Mexico and California have delivered on our monthly spaceflight objectives,” Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement after the flight. That statement added the company would turn VSS Unity around for its next flight, Galactic 05, but did not disclose a projected date for it.

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