Space tourism company Virgin Galactic is preparing for its fourth commercial spaceflight, set to launch on October 5, from Spaceport America, New Mexico.
1. Fourth commercial spaceflight
The upcoming commercial spaceflight — Galactic 04 — will be Virgin Galactic’s fifth space trip in five months, and its overall ninth spaceflight. The space company started flying paying customers to space earlier this year.
Once in orbit, the Galactic 04 trio will become Virgin Galactic’s 17th, 18th and 19th astronauts, the company said. Virgin Galactic has not revealed their details, but according to the official press release, the three members will be from the US, UK, and Pakistan. The latter will be the first Pakistani to fly with the company.
Private astronauts will make the journey aboard Virgin’s VSS Unity space plane, which will be hauled into the sky by a carrier craft named VMS Eve. Eve will drop Unity at an altitude of about 15,000 meters; the space plane will then fire up its rocket motor to get to suborbital space. VSS Unity passengers get to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see Earth against the blackness of space.
Joining them in Unity’s cabin will be Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor. Kelly Latimer and C.J. Sturckow will fly VSS Unity, and Nicola Pecile and Jameel Janjua will be at Eve’s controls. The company’s recent Galactic 03 mission flew ancient human fossils to space, recording a historic first.
2. Suborbital experience
Virgin Galactic competes in the “suborbital” space tourism sector with billionaire Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin, which has already sent 31 people into space using a vertical lift-off rocket. Since September 2022, however, an accident during an unmanned flight forced Blue Origin’s rocket to be grounded. The company promised in March to resume spaceflight soon. In the meantime, Virgin Galactic plans to press ahead with monthly commercial spaceflights. It has sold around 800 tickets — 600 between 2005 and 2014 for around €188,000 to €235,000, and 200 since then for around €422,000 each.