Shares of Virgin Galactic rocketed higher pre-market, up 33% on the news of a planned crewed spaceflight on July 11, carrying founder Richard Branson and three others.
Virgin Galactic Holdings released a statement Thursday saying the "Unity 22" mission will be the twenty-second flight test of their spacecraft and the Company's fourth crewed spaceflight. It will also be the first to carry a full crew.
The announcement comes just one week after the Federal Aviation Administration approved Virgin Galactic to fly customers to space.
"After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good," Branson said in a statement. "I'm honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin."
The Company, whose intentions are to become a leader in space tourism, will use the upcoming flight to focus on cabin and customer experience objectives, including:
- Evaluating the commercial customer cabin with a full crew, including the cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience, and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers — all to ensure every moment of the astronaut's journey maximizes the wonder and awe created by space travel
- Demonstrating the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments
- Confirming the training program at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience
Branson is expected to beat fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos to space this month. Bezos' space exploration company, Blue Origin, is preparing to launch the billionaire on July 20. The CEO of Blue Origin said Branson wouldn't fly as high as Bezos.
July appears to be the month when two billionaires battle over who will be the first to reach low Earth orbit, as their tax accountants determine if they still have to pay taxes while technically in space.