SPACEPORT AMERICA, N.M. (KRQE) – Virgin Galactic is reporting a successful test flight over New Mexico, after send another crew of six people to suborbital space Thursday. On Twitter, the company announced a successful takeoff at 9:17 a.m., spaceflight at 10:27 a.m., a “smooth” landing at 10:37 a.m. this morning from Spaceport America with an aircraft carrying the VSS (Virgin Spaceship) Unity into the skies.

The spaceflight marks the first time Virgin Galactic has flown passengers to weightlessness over New Mexico since July 2021. It’s also the last anticipated test flight before the company says it will begin commercial operations next month.

Virgin Galactic reported an apogee or peak of the spaceflight at 54.2 miles above the Earth. The total flight lasted around 82 minutes from takeoff to landing.

On board was also the first New Mexican woman to go to space, Jamila Gilbert of Las Cruces. In a statement sent out after the flight, Gilbert said, in part, “I flew to space just one hour from the street I grew up on. It is hard to put into words what this experience was like, but I’m sure I’ll spend the rest of my life trying.”

The company is expected to post more updates about the flight on Twitter throughout Thursday. Unlike the 2021 event, no live video feed was provided Thursday for the Unity 25 flight.

What’s the test flight all about? And who’s on it?

The test flight should be a milestone for Virgin Galactic, as it says it’s preparing for regular passenger traffic from Spaceport America. The Thursday test was outlined as the company’s “final assessment of the full spaceflight system and astronaut experience before commercial service opens in late June [2023].”

Four passengers were on board Thursday’s flight, including native New Mexican Jamila Gilbert of Las Cruces. She’s an employee for Virgin Galactic, having worked for the company’s internal communications team since 2019.

“I’m not only honored to be one of the first 100 women and one of 16 Hispanic and Latinx people to go to space, I’m also incredibly proud to represent the community from where this new space age is blossoming,” Gilbert said following Thursday’s flight.

A Flight Sciences Engineer for Virgin Galactic, Christopher Huie was the mission specialist on board the flight. The company says Huie is among the first 20 Black astronauts. Virgin Galactic Astronaut Instructor Luke Mays and Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses were the other two passengers in the cabin for the flight.

On its 25th mission, the Unity was flown by Commander Mike Masucci and Pilot CJ Sturckow. The Unity’s carrier aircraft, the VMS Eve, was flown by Commander by Jameel Janjua and Pilot Nicola Pecile.

What’s next?

Following Thursday’s test flight, Virgin says it will begin post-flight inspections and analysis in preparation for commercial spaceline operations, or “Galactic 01.” The company says that will be a dedicated research mission. Right now, it’s targeting late June for takeoff.

Flight Log

At 10:03 a.m., the company tweeted that it was conducting cabin checks while climbing to altitude. As 10:24 a.m., online flight tracking tool FlightRader24 showed the VSS Unity at nearly 45,000 feet in the sky, just north of Upham, near Spaceport America.

A profile of the stages of flight for Virgin Galactic’s Unity 25 spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico | Image Courtesy: Virgin Galactic

At 10:24 a.m., Virgin Galactic reported the Unity was released from it’s carrier aircraft, the VMS Eve. At 10:26 a.m. the company reported a “successful boost,” with Unity reaching space, having ignited its rocket after release from the VMS Eve.

Online flight tracking tools appeared to show the Unity beginning its descent for landing at Spaceport America around 10:30 a.m. The company reported the spacecraft being “on its way home to Spaceport America” at 10:31 a.m.

“The feather has been lowered and VSS Unity is now a glider, headed back to the runway,” Virgin Galactic tweeted at 10:33 a.m. At 10:37 a.m. the company reported a successful touchdown, with the crew landing “smoothly” at Spaceport America.