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Virgin Galactic plans a May crewed flight

Virgin Galactic hopes to resume crewed flights later this month, nearly two years after its first and only flight in July 2021.

The space tourism company announced Monday that it will launch four people in late May. The mission validates the spaceflight system and “astronaut experience” before commercial service begins in June.

Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, led the first space flight in July 2021. Since that mission, VG has had problems. The company has lost nearly $1.5 billion since 2018. VG told investors it burned $133 million in cash in Q4 2018, up from $65 million in Q4 2021.

Despite these losses, the company had nearly $1 billion in runway at the end of last year. The company announced this mission one day before reporting its quarterly results.

VG CEO Michael Colglazier has repeatedly assured investors that VG will resume spaceflights and carry paying customers. The company upgraded its “mothership,” VMS Eve, and spacecraft, VSS Unity. Unlike Blue Origin, VG straps the spacecraft to the mothership and releases it at around 50,000 feet.

Jamila Gilbert, who joined Virgin Galactic in 2019, Christopher Huie, who joined in 2016 as a flight sciences engineer; Luke Mays, a NASA veteran and Virgin’s astronaut instructor; and Beth Moses, who has flown to space twice with Virgin, Mike Masucci and CJ Sturckow will pilot.

The first commercial flight in June will carry Italian Air Force officers. The company wants to fly 400 times a year with upgraded motherships. The company needs that cadence to start making money at $425,000 per seat. By 2025, VG plans to test Delta-class ships and enter commercial service.

Virgin Orbit, Branson’s commercial company that went bankrupt, is not Virgin Galactic. Virgin Orbit delivers small satellites and other spacecraft to orbit, while Virgin Galactic transports humans.

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