Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is set to carry out a groundbreaking test flight of its space tourist plane on Saturday. The rocket-powered tourist plane will be the first crewed flight of its reusable Unity vehicle to take off from the purpose-built commercial spaceport in New Mexico, US.
The flight will also carry payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Programme, said the space company. More than 600 paying customers have already booked a ride on the plane. The list includes customers like Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Beiber.
Virgin Galactic is expected to begin space tourism flights in 2021. Saturday's flight will be the first of three final demonstration flights before commercial service begins. On the third demo flight, Branson himself will test the service he's been promising for 16 years. However, before that, Virgin Galactic needs to go through some final preparatory steps.
Saturday's mission will have just the two pilots on board - former Nasa astronaut CJ Sturckow and Galactic chief test pilot Dave Mackay. They are both members of the eight person team in the Virgin Galactic Pilot Corps. The pilots will run checks on all their plane's operating procedures by taking the first ever powered climb above Spaceport America, the centre that was developed specifically for this commercial operation by the New Mexico state government.
Virgin Galactic recently unveiled the design of the tourist cabin. Earlier, Branson's Virgin Hyperloop conducted the world's first passenger ride test on a super high-speed levitating pod system.