UNITED STATES: Virgin Galactic, the space exploration company founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is gearing up for its inaugural commercial spaceflight later this month. The company has announced a launch window of June 27 to June 30 for Galactic 01, its first operational flight.
Galactic 01 is a scientific research mission carrying three crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council of Italy. The primary objective of the flight is to conduct microgravity research, showcasing the capabilities of Virgin Galactic’s suborbital science lab.
The suborbital spaceflight system of Virgin Galactic comprises two components: VMS Eve, a carrier plane, and VSS Unity, a space plane designed to accommodate six passengers and two pilots.
Eve lifts off from a runway with Unity attached under its wings. At approximately 50,000 feet (15,000 meters), Unity separates from Eve and ignites its rocket motor to propel itself into suborbital space.
Passengers aboard Unity will experience several minutes of weightlessness and witness our planet’s breathtaking view against the space backdrop. After the exhilarating journey, Unity glides back to Earth and makes an unpowered runway landing.
Unity has undergone five successful test missions to suborbital space, with the most recent one occurring on May 25. Following this flight, Virgin Galactic performed necessary maintenance and upgrades to ensure the vehicles were ready for the increased flight rate of commercial service.
Following the commercial debut, Virgin Galactic has plans for the second operational flight, Galactic 02, scheduled for early August.
The company aims to offer monthly commercial flights after that. These missions will launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico, which serves as Virgin Galactic’s commercial hub.
For those interested in experiencing suborbital space travel, be prepared to dig deep into your pockets—a ticket aboard VSS Unity is around $450,000.
However, Virgin Galactic envisions a future with more frequent opportunities for space travel. The company is developing a fleet of new “Delta-class” space planes capable of launching once per week. These advanced spaceliners will become fully operational by 2026.
Virgin Galactic faces competition in the suborbital space tourism market from Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos.
Blue Origin’s new Shepard vehicle also offers suborbital spaceflights to paying customers. However, the company has grounded New Shepard since September 2022 due to an anomaly during an uncrewed research flight.
As Virgin Galactic prepares for its groundbreaking commercial spaceflight, excitement builds among those eagerly anticipating the dawn of a new era in space tourism.