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Everything you need to know about Virgin Galactic's first-ever fully crewed mission

It will be the first time the commercial space company is sharing an up-close look at its astronaut experience.
Credit: Virgin Galactic

NEW MEXICO, USA — Virgin Galatic will get one step closer to competing in the booming commercial space industry with the company's Unity 22 test flight on July 11.

The mission will mark Virgin Galactic's first-ever fully crewed flight with two pilots and four mission specialists aboard the VSS Unity.

"Audiences around the world are invited to participate virtually in the Unity 22 test flight and see first-hand the extraordinary experience Virgin Galactic is creating for future astronauts," the company wrote in a release.

A successful test of the private astronaut experience would allow the company to inch closer to its goal of introducing its commercial service in 2022.

Here's what you need to know as Virgin Galactic gets ready for its latest history-making moment: 

What time is takeoff/launch? 

The two-part launch experience is set to get underway on July 11 with operations out of Spaceport America in New Mexico. 

So, that means the timing of the global live stream of the mission depends on where you live. For those on the east coast, things will get going at 9 a.m. ET While those on the west coast will need to tune in at 6 p.m. PT.

All timing is pending weather and technical checks.

Sunday, July 11, update: Takeoff now is planned for 10:30 a.m. ET.

How can I watch the launch? 

You can tune in to 10 Tampa Bay where we will be streaming live on Facebook, YouTube and online.

Virgin Galactic will also have continuous live coverage on its website, social media channels and YouTube.

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Who is on the crew?

Among the crew headed to space is Virgin Galactic's founder himself, Sir Richard Branson. During the spaceflight, he is tasked with evaluating the private astronaut experience to enhance the journey for future customers. 

He will be joined by three other mission specialists from Virgin Galactic: Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, Lead Operations Engineer Colin Bennett and Vice President of Government Affairs Sirisha Bandla.

Moses will serve as the mission's lead and test director and will be responsible for the safe and efficient execution of launch day. While Bennet will evaluate things like equipment, procedures and the weightless environment onboard the spacecraft.

Bandla is on more of a research-based mission come flight day where she will use an experiment from the University of Florida to evaluate the "human-tested research experience."

Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci will pilot the VSS Unity.

How will the mission work?

According to Virgin Galactic, the goal of the upcoming test flight is to hone in on the cabin and customer experience before opening up slots on future spaceflights to the public.

Everything from the comfort of the seats to the overall feeling of weightlessness will be evaluated "to ensure every moment of the astronaut’s journey maximizes the wonder and awe created by space travel."

The mission will also confirm if Spaceport America can support Virgin Galactic's planned spaceflight experience.

Following the test flight, the crew will inspect the vehicles and conduct a data review to help the company determine the next steps for its two remaining test flights ahead of opening up commercial service in 2022.

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What to know about the spacecraft?

Virgin Galactic's flights work a little bit differently than the launches you're probably used to seeing. The experience starts with a runway takeoff of the spacecraft and mothership that leads up to launch. 

Once around 50,000 feet in the air, a pilot will release the spacecraft to continue on the rest of the mission. Rockets will ignite and carry the crew into space just beyond Mach 3 for 23 seconds, according to the company.  

Credit: Virgin Galactic
Virgin Spaceship Unity and Virgin Mothership Eve take to the skies on it's first captive carry flight on 8th September 2016

Are there any historic aspects?

While the July 11 launch will mark Virgin Galactic's fourth crewed mission, it will be the first test flight with a full crew on board. It will also be the first time the commercial space company gives the global public an up-close and personal look at its astronaut experience.

“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. 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.

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Can I go to space?

Not quite yet, but Virgin Galactic is collecting information from people who are interested in becoming astronauts in the future. 

The company is aiming at opening up the commercial service in 2022 and anticipates making a "limited number" of future spaceflight tickets available this year, according to its website.

Anyone interested in going beyond Earth's atmosphere can sign up here.

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