Virgin Galactic will be launching its first commercial space mission on June 27, with a four-day launch window. The mission will carry a crew of three specialists from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Centre of Italy to conduct microgravity research. This mission marks a milestone for Virgin Galactic after completing its final test flight. The company plans to begin tourist flights for ticket-holders in August and continue them monthly. Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier expressed excitement about this new chapter for the company, driven by innovation and a commitment to providing an unparalleled customer experience.
Virgin Galactic’s journey to this point has had its challenges. In 2021, the company faced an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration after a space flight deviated off-course with Richard Branson on board. However, the company successfully completed its final test flight, Unity 25, in May 2023. During this flight, the spaceplane touched an altitude of 54.2 miles. A Virgin Galactic spaceflight involves releasing the spaceplane from a carrier aircraft at an altitude of nearly 50,000 feet. It then ignites its rocket motor, reaches space, and shuts off, providing passengers with a unique experience of silence, weightlessness, and a breath taking view of Earth. The spacecraft glides back to the runway for landing.
Tickets for Virgin Galactic’s spaceflights are priced at $450,000 per person. The company has already sold around 800 tickets over the past decade, with early fliers having their seats assigned. For those unable to participate, Virgin Galactic will offer livestreams of its initial missions on its website.
Virgin Galactic’s announcement about its commercial space mission comes in the midst of a space race with Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin recently secured a $3.4 billion contract as the second provider for lunar lander services for NASA’s Artemis program. Both companies have been competing in the space tourism industry, with Virgin Galactic’s shares rising by approximately 16% in 2023.