Virgin Galactic company makes its first commercial spaceflight

Virgin Galactic began its commercial spaceflight years late on Thursday, a major milestone for the company founded in 2004 by British millionaire Richard Branson.

The company has already flown into space five times, but so far his only passengers were his employees. Now it does so with the Italian Air Force as a client.

The mission called Galactic 01 took off from the Spaceport America base, in the desert state of New Mexico.

A huge plane took off from a conventional runway and then, at an altitude of about 15 km, will launch the craft, which resembles a large private jet.

The latter will then start the engine and accelerate vertically until it reaches an altitude of more than 80 km, the limit of space according to the US military.

The trip consists of just ten minutes of weightlessness.

It will then glide down to land on the same runway.

Four passengers are traveling on board the VSS Unity spacecraft: two senior Italian Air Force commanders, an engineer from the Italian National Research Council (CNR) and a Virgin Galactic employee who will accompany them. Two pilots will be at the controls.

Branson himself made this space trip in July 2021. Right after the US Aviation Agency (FAA) immobilized the aircraft to investigate a deviation of trajectory during this flight.

Virgin Galactic then announced that it was halting operations to upgrade the ship, but the pause lasted longer than expected.

In May, the company carried out its last test flight.

monthly flights

It has been expected for years to start commercial operations. Some 800 customers have already purchased tickets at a price starting at $200,000 to $250,000 per passenger and it went up to 450,000 dollars.

Virgin Galactic’s space program is also years behind schedule due to, among other things, a 2014 accident that killed a pilot.

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Thursday’s flight has a scientific vocation, with several experiments on board, on the behavior of liquids in weightlessness, the bodily reaction of passengers, etc.

“Virgin Galactic’s research missions will usher in a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for government and research institutions”declared the company’s chief executive, Michael Colglazier.

In August it will carry out a second mission, Galactic 02, and thereafter Virgin Galactic promises space flights every month.

The company competes with billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which also offers short suborbital flights and has already sent 32 people into space.

But since an accident in September 2022 during an unmanned flight, his rocket has been on the ground. Blue Origin promised in March to resume spaceflight “soon.”

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