Virgin Galactic has officially announced the date for its upcoming space tourism mission, Galactic 03, scheduled for September 8. This venture marks the third commercial spaceflight for the company and its eighth space mission overall. Three paying passengers will embark on this suborbital journey departing from Spaceport America in New Mexico, becoming Virgin Galactic’s 14th, 15th and 16th astronauts.
While the identities of the passengers for Galactic 03 have not yet been disclosed, they have been awaiting their turn for quite some time, Virgin Galactic shared in a statement on August 28. “The Galactic 03 crew bought their tickets as early as 2005 and, since then, have been an active part of the company’s vibrant Future Astronaut community”, read the statement.
Virgin Galactic has referred to them as the “Founder” astronauts, individuals whose early ticket purchases back in 2005 contributed significantly to the realization of regular commercial spaceflights.
Virgin Galactic’s recent announcement aligns with its goal of conducting monthly commercial spaceflights, with Galactic 02’s launch having taken place on August 10.
One of the three passengers on board of Galactic 02, Jon Goodwin’s, who waited over a decade for his call to space, was the inaugural paying passenger in Virgin Galactic’s history. Since the two other passengers on the mission, a former Olympian and a mother-daughter duo, earned their seats through a prize draw, and the company’s inaugural commercial spaceflight had a dual role, serving as a training mission for the Italian Air Force, Galactic 03 is marking the first fully paid passenger mission for Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company.
The passengers will be joined by the company’s astronaut instructor, Colin Bennett, aboard the VSS Unity space plane, piloted by Nicola Pecile and Michael Masucci. VSS Unity will be carried aloft by Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, to an altitude of approximately 15,000 meters, before igniting its rocket engine to reach suborbital space space and offer the astronauts a few minutes of weightlessness before heading back down to Earth. Encompassing liftoff, Unity’s release and flight, and the final landing at Spaceport America, the entire journey is expected to last approximately one hour.
Virgin Galactic has been actively promoting the accessibility of space tourism, although the hefty price tag of up to $450,000 per ticket means it remains a pursuit for the world’s wealthiest individuals. This cost, however, was likely reduced for the “founding astronauts” who purchased their tickets more than a decade ago, with prices for a seat having gone up a few times since then.