Virgin Galactic to launch 6th commercial spaceflight on Jan. 26

the curve of earth against the blackness of space, with part of a silvery spacecraft in the foreground.
The view from Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity space plane on the Galactic 05 suborbital mission, which launched on Nov. 2, 2023. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic's sixth commercial spaceflight will lift off next month, if all goes according to plan.

The mission, known as Galactic-06, is targeted for Jan. 26, Virgin Galactic announced in a statement issued on Tuesday (Dec. 19). The flight will include four private astronauts — one from Texas, one from California, one from Austria and one jointly from Ukraine and California, according to the statement. Names of the participants were not released.

Virgin Galactic, which is part of billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group of companies, takes tourists and private astronauts to suborbital space using an air-launched system. That system consists of a carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, that deploys the VSS Unity space plane at an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). On Galactic-06, Unity will be helmed by commander C.J. Sturckow and pilot Nicola Pecile, and Eve will be flown by commander Michael Masucci and pilot Dan Alix.

Related: Virgin Galactic launches researchers to suborbital space on 5th commercial flight (video)

The company finished six spaceflights in as many months in 2023 following a two-year hiatus for hardware upgrades. Some of those flights catered to private tourists, while others also served governmental customers. For example, Walter Villadei of the Italian Air Force commanded Italy's Virtute-1 mission aboard a June 29 Virgin spaceflight, in part as training for his upcoming trip to the International Space Station on Axiom Space's Ax-3 mission, which is slated to lift off on Jan. 9.

Virgin Galactic is expected to ground its Unity space plane in 2024 after perhaps one or two more flights, company representatives have said. The company wants to focus on developing its next-generation "Delta class" space plane that could fly as often as twice a week once it's ready, CEO Michael Colglazier said in a November earnings call, as reported by SpaceNews.  

Test flights of Delta vehicles are expected to begin in 2025, with full operational service commencing in 2026. The Virgin fleet, incidentally, does not fly beyond the Kármán Line of 62 miles (100 kilometers), considered by international authorities to be the boundary of space. But U.S. entities use a different boundary, 50 miles (80 km), that Virgin breaches regularly.

Virgin Galactic's main competitor in the suborbital tourism industry, the Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin, had a 15-month gap in flights after a September 2022 failure on an uncrewed mission of its New Shepard spacecraft, which is rated for both payloads and people. Blue Origin returned to flight on Tuesday with an uncrewed New Shepard launch and plans to fly people again soon.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: