Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire, is scheduled to fly the first fully crewed trip from his private space tourism company Virgin Galactic Spaceship on Sunday.
The Unity 22 mission, the fourth crewed voyage for Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spacecraft, will see Branson, 70, participate as a mission expert. Unity is launched from a separate “mothership” plane named VMS Eve, which takes off from a regular runway before releasing the spacecraft at a height of about 50,000 feet.
The launch will take place from New Mexico’s Spaceport America, and live coverage will begin on Virgin Galactic’s website and social media pages at 9 a.m. ET on Sunday.
The spacecraft will be piloted by Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, while the aircraft will be piloted by C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer.
Many opponents, including competitor Blue Origin’s Twitter account, have criticized Virgin Galactic for extending the concept of “space” by not flying over the Karman line (62 miles above Earth), which is regarded by many — but not all — as the border between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
“I really think that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said in a statement announcing his mission earlier this month. “The new commercial space sector is ready to open the universe to humanity and alter the world for the better after 17 years of study, engineering, and invention.”