On Thursday June 15th, Virgin Galactic announced the date of its first commercial flight into space: the company plans to launch the shuttle “Galactic 01” between June 27th and 30th. The precise date and time, subject to weather conditions, will be announced in the coming days. The takeoff will be broadcast live on the company’s website.
This first flight will not carry tourists, but scientists. “Three crew members from the Italian Air Force and the Italian National Research Council will be carrying out research in microgravity,” says the company in a press release. The second flight will take place in August and will take three private astronauts to outer space. Subsequent flights will take off on a monthly basis; the general public will be able to sign up for any those missions. According to Virgin Galactic, 800 customers have already purchased their tickets for between $200,000 and $450,000.
The spaceflight will showcase the value and power of the unique suborbital science lab that Virgin Galactic offers.Virgin Galactic
According to Space.com, Virgin Galactic uses the carrier aircraft VMS Eve, which brings the spaceship VSS Unity to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). At that point, Unity drops away and soars to suborbital space using rocket engines. Upgrade work on VMS Eve had been pushed back due to pandemic-related supply chain issues.
“Our agreement with Aurora to develop new motherships, selection of Phoenix as the location for our new Spaceship factory in Phoenix, and acquisition of an incredible land parcel in New Mexico for our Future Astronaut Campus are cornerstone elements of how we will build and operate our global Spaceline,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic. “Many of the key elements of our roadmap are now in place to scale the business in a meaningful way.”
In August of 2022, the company announced that it was pushing its first commercial passenger flight to the spring of this year. The delays, the company announced during its most recent financial results call, were linked to the refurbishment program of the VMS Eve aircraft, which is used to launch the VSS Unity spacecraft.
On May 25th of this year, Virgin Galactic completed its fifth and final test flight, marking the start of commercial operation of its shuttles. The flight described a parabolic trajectory to an altitude of 87 km, the boundary of space as defined by Nasa at 80 km altitude, whereas the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and space is traditionally delimited by the Kármán line, at 100 km. At the climax of the 10-minute journey, the passengers enjoyed a few minutes of weightlessness before the shuttle glided back down to earth like a conventional aircraft.
In 2014, a pilot died in an accident testing one of the devices, and in 2007, three employees of a supply company also died testing an engine, according to the Financial Times. In 2004, Branson created Virgin Galactic, which competes with Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.