Virgin Galactic Resumes Spaceflights Following a Two-Year Hiatus

Virgin Galactic has resumed spaceflights after a two-year pause to make safety upgrades to its fleet. The company successfully carried out its fifth spaceflight, which was billed as the final test before commercial operations can begin in late June. The mission, named Unity 25, flew four of the company’s employees to an altitude of just over 54 miles above sea level. The first paying customers will be members of the Italian Air Force. Virgin Galactic uses a carrier aircraft with two pilots that takes off from a runway, gains high altitude, and drops a rocket-powered plane that soars into space at nearly Mach 3, before gliding back to Earth. Its first fully crewed flight in 2021 included the company’s flamboyant founder, British billionaire Richard Branson. Virgin Galactic has sold 800 tickets for future commercial flights, with prices ranging from $200,000 to $450,000 each. It competes in the “suborbital” space tourism sector with billionaire Jeff Bezos’ company, Blue Origin, which has already sent 32 people into space. However, since an accident in September 2022 during an unmanned flight, Blue Origin’s rocket has been grounded.