Virgin Galactic launches monthly flights for space tourists: Video

On June 29, Virgin Galactic made its first commercial trip to the edge of space aboard the VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo rocket plane after almost two decades of ups and downs. Today, in a flight called Galactic 01, three Italians made a suborbital research mission, marking the beginning of the company’s regular commercial flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico. 

The outstanding flight included three Italian citizens: Col. Walter Villadei, Lt. Col. Angelo Landolfi, who are officers of the Italian Air Force, and engineer Pantaleone Carlucci, who works for the National Research Council of Italy. In addition, there were 13 research cargoes on board for various experiments in weightlessness.

Angelo Landolfi, Walter Villadei and Pantaleone Carlucci hold the Italian banner, and Colin Bennett looks at them during a flight on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity rocket plane.

The VSS Unity rocket plane was piloted by two Virgin Galactic pilots: Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile, and astronaut instructor Colin Bennett took a seat next to the Italians. Two other pilots, Kelly Latimer and Jameel Janjua, flew the VMS Eve aircraft, which raised the VSS Unity to an altitude of 15 km, then to detach the spaceplane so that it would launch its hybrid rocket engine and use it to reach a maximum altitude of 85 km. In addition to conducting research, space tourists had the opportunity to enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness and observe the Earth through panoramic portholes. After the flight, the rocket plane returned to Spaceport America for landing. The flight as a whole lasted 90 minutes.

USD 450,000 per ticket

The cost of traveling on VSS Unity is 450,000 dollars. However, the Italians were able to fly under an agreement concluded in 2019, when the price was lower on preferential terms from the Italian government. 

VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo spaceplane. Illustration: Virgin Galactic

The CEO of Virgin Galactic, Michael Colglazier, said that the Galactic 01 flight opened “a new era of repetitive and reliable access to space for private passengers and researchers”. The Galactic 02 flight, which will be Virgin Galactic’s first space flight with private astronauts, is scheduled for August.

“We expect VSS Unity to continue with monthly space missions while we simultaneously work to scale our future spaceship fleet for a global audience,” Colglazier said.

History of Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 by Richard Branson and intended to introduce commercial suborbital spaceflight in a few years. However, the development of the project took longer than planned. The path to success was tarnished by two disasters: an accident in 2007 with the loss of the VSS Enterprise spaceplane and the death of one of the pilots in 2014.

In 2018 , the company successfully sent two pilots to an altitude of 80 km for the first time. After this important mission, several other test flights were made with crews consisting of Virgin Galactic personnel, including Branson, which paved the way for the further first commercial mission.

Virgin Galactic is not the only one in the commercial space sector. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company has started carrying out paid passenger flights on its New Shepard suborbital rocket ship since mid-2021. And SpaceX, in collaboration with Shift4 CEO Jared Isaacman, has planned several privately funded orbital missions.

Earlier we reported on how the disaster of the Titan bathyscaphe showed the danger of space tourism.

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