Virgin Galactic has set a launch date for its first commercial space flight. The company owned by billionaire Richard Branson announced today that it will send three Italians and an instructor into space on Thursday, June 29. Two days later than previously estimated. The events will begin at 11:00 EDT (16:00 GMT), and the mission will depart from Spaceport America in New Mexico, where Virgin Galactic operates a commercial hub.
Galactic 01 Crew
Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight system will also include four pilots across its two vehicles. Two pilots will be aboard the VMS Eve carrier aircraft. Kelly Latimer serving as the commander and Jameel Janjua as the pilot who will fly into the upper atmosphere. Meanwhile, Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile will be aboard the SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Unity spacecraft, which will go into suborbital space with the four passengers.
Passengers are Pantaleone Carlucci, an engineer from CNR (National Research Council), Colin Bennett, an astronaut instructor at Virgin Galactic, Colonel Walter Villadei, and Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi from the Italian Air Force.
The mission, named Galactic 01, supports a joint research effort by the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council (CNR) called Virtute 1. The 90-minute flight will see the cabin of VSS Unity “transform into a suborbital scientific laboratory to provide an environment for payload experiments mounted on racks and to enable the crew to interact with wearable payloads” according to Virgin Galactic.
The science will involve 13 experiments studying fluid dynamics and sustainable materials for medical applications. The four crew members aboard VSS Unity will experience several minutes of weightlessness during which they will see the curvature of the Earth against the darkness of space.
VSS Unity has a maximum capacity of six passengers. It has already flown to suborbital space five times, with the latest flight taking place on May 25. Prior to that, it flew in July 2021 before Virgin Galactic grounded VSS Unity and VMS Eve for maintenance and upgrades to allow the vehicles to operate more frequent commercial flight.
If Galactic 01 goes according to plan, both VSS Unity and VMS Eve will fly again relatively soon. The second flight, named Galactic 02, is “scheduled for early August. Commercial flights in the following months” according to a previous company announcement last week.
Cost of a flight
Participating in a mission requires a significant amount of money. A ticket aboard VSS Unity costs $450,000. Not until 2026 will Virgin Galactic launch a series of new “Delta-class” spacecraft capable of flying into space once a week. The company has always been in competition with Blue Origin, the spaceflight company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, with their vehicle New Shepard.