Virgin Galactic Is Ready to Kick Off Its Commercial Trips to the Edge of Space

Virgin Galactic Is Ready to Kick Off Its Commercial Trips to the Edge of Space

Virgin Galactic is officially open for suborbital business. The private space venture is set to launch its first commercial flight in late June, the first in a series of trips to the edge of space.

On Thursday, the company announced the start of its commercial spaceflight service with the first mission, Galactic 01, scheduled for launch sometime between June 27 and 30. The follow-up mission, Galactic 02, is set to launch in early August, after which the company is planning to send a commercial crew to the edge of space every month, according to Virgin Galactic.

Galactic 01 is a scientific research mission involving a three-person crew from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council of Italy, who will carry out microgravity research on board Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane.

The company, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, completed a suborbital test flight in May. Virgin Galactic launched its Unity 25 mission from Spaceport America in New Mexico, with six crew members on board the spaceplane. The test flight saw the VMS Eve carrier aircraft take off while carrying the VSS Unity spaceplane beneath its wings before releasing it at an altitude of 13,500 meters above the ground. Once it was released, the spaceplane fired up its rocket engines, lifting off to a maximum altitude of 87 kilometres, which is a few miles shy of the internationally recognised boundary of space known as the Kármán Line.

Following the success of the test mission, Virgin Galactic declared that it was ready to launch its commercial service for space tourists. “This next exciting chapter for Virgin Galactic has been driven by innovation, determination and a commitment to delivering an unparalleled and truly transformative customer experience,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in an emailed statement.

The launch of its commercial spaceflight service gave the company a boost, with Virgin Galactic shares spiking more than 40% in extended trading Thursday, CNBC reported.

It’s been a bumpy ride for the company in trying to make space tourism viable. May’s test flight was the first time Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane reached suborbital heights in nearly two years. In July 2021, six passengers, including Branson himself, hopped on the suborbital ride that was meant to usher in the company’s commercial missions. Instead, the short trip led to an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration as reports suggested that the spaceplane veered off course during its ascent.

May’s suborbital flight was crucial in launching its commercial services for private astronauts wanting to reach the edge of space.

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