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Virgin Galactic declares May day for next test space flight

Mothership checks out, so VSS Unity will fly again

As bidding intensifies for a seat on Blue Origin's first crewed hop into space, Virgin Galactic has announced the next rocket-powered SpaceShipTwo test flight will take place on May 22.

Things looked a little dicey for Virgin Galactic earlier this month as the biz revealed problems had been found with its carrier aircraft VMS Eve, due to go in for maintenance at the end of this year. The biz told investors earlier this month more investigation of the gremlins, described as a "wear-and-tear issue," was needed.

Review completed, Virgin has green lit another flight of VMS Eve to 50,000 feet. Eve will then drop the attached VSS Unity, which hopefully will then light its rocket motor for another brief flirtation with space before gliding back to a runway landing. VMS stands for Virgin MotherShip, and VSS means Virgin Space Ship. VSS Unity is an implementation of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo design, and is intended to be a passenger spacecraft.

A key objective of the weekend's test flight will be to check out the remedial work done to lower the electromagnetic interference (EMI) that scuppered December's test flight. Elements of the passenger cabin will also be tested as well as upgraded flight controls and the live stream capability from the spacecraft to the ground. The flight will carry two pilots and research payloads from NASA's Flight Opportunities program.

Should all go well, the next mission will load the cabin with mission specialists. The third will launch Virgin Galactic supremo and facial-hair aficionado Sir Richard Branson into space (and back.)

Paying passengers will have their turn after the Italian Air Force gets a ride. Tickets are due to go on sale again when Branson completes his trip. Prices, however, have yet to be disclosed. However, we strongly doubt that the bidding for a first seat on Blue Origin's New Shepard hitting $2.8m so far will have escaped the attention of Virgin Galactic's investors. ®

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