Virgin Galactic retires its Unity shuttle

Billionaires looking for thrills will have to be patient: Virgin Galactic retired its VSS Unity shuttle on Saturday after its 7th commercial flight, and will no longer send tourists into space for at least two years.

The aerospace company announced last November the end of its Unity program “in order to devote its cash flow, approximately $1 billion at the time, to completing the Delta shuttle program, which promises much more frequent flights at lower operating costs”, explain Space News.

Components for this new generation of shuttles will begin to be delivered at the end of 2024 and will be assembled by Virgin Galactic at its factory in Mesa, Arizona. “The company plans to begin flight testing in late 2025 and launch commercial service in 2026”adds the site.

Delta shuttles “will be able to fly twice a week – eight times more frequently than with Unity – and Virgin Galactic plans to manufacture at least two straight away to start building its new fleet”, precise

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson was on hand for his shuttle’s final landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico, observes Space News. “He said he was still committed to the vision of the company” consisting of allowing “to thousands and thousands of people” to experience space flight.

“Other people have a goal of going to Mars, which is just as extraordinary”he added. “But what we want to do is allow a lot of people to experience what our astronauts experienced today.”.

Six people – all men – were aboard Unity for its final flight: the pilot and his co-pilot, Turkish scientist Tuva Atasever and tourists Andy Sadhwani (propulsion engineer at SpaceX), Irving Izchak Pergament (real estate developer ) and Giorgio Manenti (investment advisor).

After fifty minutes of ascent, the shuttle remained in space for a few minutes, at an altitude of just under 88 kilometers, before returning to Earth. The flight, which took place without incident, lasted one hour and ten minutes.

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