Some 19 years after its initial creation, Virgin Galactic completed its inaugural commercial spaceflight on Thursday morning [29 June 2023] local time, from Spaceport America, New Mexico.
Onboard the flight dubbed ‘Galactic 01’ were three crew members from the Italian Air Force and National Research Council of Italy. They and their 13 research payloads, were aboard VSS Unity to conduct scientific experiments in a microgravity environment.
It was the second spaceflight in two months for Sir Richard Branson’s aerospace company.
“Our team successfully flew six people and more than a dozen research payloads to space in VSS Unity, our unique, suborbital science lab,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic.
“This historic flight was our first commercial flight and our first dedicated commerical research mission – ushering in a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for private passengers and researchers.”
“Galactic 02, our first spaceflight with private astronauts, is planned for August and we expect VSS Unity to continue with monthly space missions while we simultaneously work to scale our future spaceship fleet for a global audience,” Colglazier said.
Colonel Walter Villadei of the Italian Airforce, onboard ‘Galactic 01’, said he was beyond proud to be part of the historic spaceflight – Italy’s first-ever commercial suborbital research spaceflight.
“This groundbreaking collaboration propels Italy into the new era of commercial spaceflight as a pathfinder, fostering innovation and paving the way for further technological enhancements in this strategic domain,” Villadei said. “Together, and in partnership with Virgin Galactic, we have set a precedent for future endeavours and boundless possibilities lie ahead.”
Sirisha Bandla, VP of Government Affairs and Research Operations for Virgin Galactic heralded the spaceflight and partnership with the Italian Air Force and National Research Council of Italy, saying the successful mission “gives us a preview of what discoveries may result from reliable access to space to further scientific knowledge”.
Virgin Galactic will now proceed with post-flight inspections and analysis in preparation for its next commercial mission, ‘Galactic 02,’ which will bring Virgin Galactic’s unique experience to private astronauts.
Seats to space aboard VSS Unity are currently valued at US$400,000. The aerospace company has a backlog of commercial ‘Future Astronauts’ in excess of 800 ticketholders.
All photos courtesy of Virgin Galactic.