Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic has announced that it will begin its commercial flights this week.
The company has announced its three crew members who will be on the first flight. Col. Walter Villadei and Lt. Col. Angelo Landolfi, both from the Italian Air Force, and Pantaleone Carlucci, an engineer from the National Research Council of Italy, will join Virgin Galactic’s astronaut Colin Bennett for the historic spaceflight.
The first commercial flight is set to launch on the 29th of June 2023. The crew is slated to board the VSS Unity which is also dubbed as the ‘Galactic 1’ for a 90-minute flight to conduct microgravity research. As part of the mission, the crew will conduct 13 “human-tended and autonomous experiments”.
There is also expected to be a livestream of the flight which will go live at 11AM Eastern time.
Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said Monday that the company’s “research missions will usher in a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for government and research institutions for years to come.”
Virgin Galactic has till now sold hundreds of tickets which initially were priced at $200,000 but now has risen to as high as $450,000.
In company will begin flights to the edge of space for ticket-holders starting with Galactic 02 in August. The company said the first of those flights will begin in early August, with monthly flights following that. The company’s market shares have also risen by more than 40% in extended New York trading post its announcements.
Last month, Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane, which is called Unity, was back in action after a gap of almost two years.
The vehicle, with two pilots and four passengers aboard, climbed high over the New Mexico desert in the US to the edge of space – before gliding back down.
In 2021, the company finally won approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly paying customers on brief trips to space. It completed its final test flight last month in New Mexico but its journey wasn’t easy as they faced multiple delays and failures during testing. It also faced disaster in 2014, when its VSS Enterprise vehicle, built by contractor Scaled Composites, crashed. The failure killed leading Virgin test co-pilot Michael Alsbury.
Experts believe there is a very real market for space tourism, despite the costs and hazards involved. Carissa Christensen, of space consultancy Bryce Tech, says: “For suborbital commercial space flight there is very clearly commercial demand. There is a market, unambiguously. This space market has been supply constrained, rather than demand constrained.”
In spite of the clearance to conduct commercial flights, there are still questions over the safety of the flights, especially after the disaster of the Titan submersible.