Update for 12 pm ET: Virgin Galactic has successfully launched (and landed) its Galactic-02 space tourist flight, marking a major milestone as the company begins commercial spaceliner service. You can see photos and video of the launch in our wrap story.
Virgin Galactic is targeting Aug. 10 for the launch of its second commercial spaceflight mission, known as Galactic-02.
The mission will ferry three private astronauts on a suborbital spaceflight aboard the Virgin Galactic's reusable space plane, VSS Unity. Coverage for the mission begins at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), according to the company's website. You can watch it live here on Space.com at launch time.
VSS Unity doesn't reach orbit, but its trajectory does create several minutes of weightlessness for the passengers, at an altitude high enough for them to see the curvature of Earth against the blackness of space.
What time is the Galactic-02 suborbital launch?
Though an exact time for liftoff hasn't been announced, it is expected to occur shortly after Virgin Galactic begins its live coverage.
Liftoff will occur from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic's carrier plane, VMS Eve, will haul VSS Unity aloft and carry the space plane to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). At that point, Eve will drop Unity, which will ignite its rocket motor and ascend to suborbital space.
The exact mission length is uncertain. On Virgin Galactic's first commercial flight, late June's Galactic-01, about 1.5 hours passed between takeoff of VMS Eve and the landing of VSS Unity, which will glide back to Earth at Spaceport America.
Can I watch Virgin Galactic's Galactic-02 spaceflight?
Yes! While Virgin Galactic only provided updates via X (formerly known as Twitter) during the Galactic-01 mission, the company is planning to livestream Galactic-02.
Beginning at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), on Aug. 10, a livestream will be available on Virgin Galactic's website. The extent to which that stream will cover the whole mission is yet unclear. It is possible that viewers will see initial events unfold during VMS Eve's takeoff at Spaceport America and nothing more. It's also possible Virgin will broadcast Galactic-02 in its entirety, giving audiences a view of VSS Unity's flight and crew from liftoff to landing.
Who is riding on the Galactic-02 spaceflight?
In total, six people will be fly to space aboard VSS Unity: The space plane's commander C.J. Sturckow and pilot Kelly Latimer, their three private passengers and the Virgin Galactic astronaut instructor who trained the trio for their flight.
Both Sturckow and Latimer have extensive NASA backgrounds and have flown with Virgin Galactic for several years.
Photos: The first space tourists
- Sturckow was a NASA astronaut from 1995 to 2013. He flew four space shuttle missions, including the first shuttle to launch to the International Space Station (ISS). He sat at the helm during Virgin Galactic's first flight to space, and will count Galactic-02 as his ninth spaceflight upon its completion.
- Latimer was the first woman to serve as a research pilot at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center. During her career, she has flown thousands of hours in the cockpit of dozens of different aircraft. She was at the helm of VMS Eve during Virgin Galactic's first commercial spaceflight mission in June, but Galactic-02 will be her first flight to space.
Three private passengers are boarding VSS Unity for the Galactic-02 mission, and they are setting some spaceflight firsts. Two of the seats for this flight were made possible through a fundraiser with the nonprofit organization Space for Humanity, which strives to make spaceflight more accessible to diverse peoples across the globe.
- Jon Goodwin: Jon Goodwin competed as a canoeist in the 1972 Munich Olympic games, and will be the first Olympian to fly to space. He is now 80 years old and has lived with a Parkinson's disease diagnosis for the past nine years. A lifelong adventurer, he sees his trip to space as another milestone in his ongoing active lifestyle.
- Keisha Schahaff: Born and raised in Antigua and Barbuda, Schahaff won her seat aboard Galactic-02 as a part of Space for Humanity's fundraising competition. She works as a health and wellness coach, which she says is a career partially born from her love for the stars. Schahaff was allowed to invite one person to accompany her on her trip to space, and she chose her daughter.
- Anastatia Mayers: At 18 years old, Mayers studies philosophy and physics at Aberdeen University in the United Kingdom. Growing up with her mother in Antigua and Barbuda, Mayers said in an interview with Virgin Galactic that she never dreamed she would reach such heights. She and Schahaff will be the first mother-daughter duo to fly to space together.
Beth Moses was the first woman to fly aboard Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane. She earned her astronaut wings in 2019 and is designated Virgin Galactic Astronaut 002.
She currently works as the company's chief astronaut instructor and was responsible for training the Galactic-02 crew for their flight. She will fly alongside the Galactic-02 passengers as their Virgin Galactic chaperone and also collect observational data to inform future flights. This will be Moses' fourth spaceflight.
Two people will be at the controls of VMS Eve during Galactic-02. They'll be responsible for a number of important activities, including the release of VSS Unity and the return of VMS Eve to Spaceport America's runway at the end of the mission. They are:
- Commander Mike Masucci: Before joining Virgin Galactic, Masucci served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force. While VMS Eve doesn't make it to space as a part of its flight profile, Masucci flew VSS Unity on Galactic-01.
- Pilot Nicola Pecile: Pecile has flown on 170 different aircraft since beginning his flying career in 1991, which included service in the Italian Air Force as a lieutenant colonel. He has a total of 7,700 flight hours, according to Virgin Galactic.
How long will Virgin Galactic's spaceflight last?
Virgin Galactic's first commercial mission lasted about 90 minutes from VMS Eve's takeoff to the return of VSS Unity. At their peak altitude, the Galactic-02 crew will experience around four minutes of weightlessness, during which they will be literally free to float about the cabin.
VSS Unity will then glide back to New Mexico to land, wheels down, on the Spaceport America runway.