Virgin Galactic Successfully Launches Its Inaugural Commercial Spaceflight Galactic 01

Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by Richard Branson, successfully launched its first commercial spaceflight on 29th June. The mission, named Galactic 01, took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico and lasted 90 minutes. The crew included three members from the Italian Air Force and National Research Council of Italy, as well as a Virgin Galactic astronaut instructor.

During the mission, several suborbital science experiments were conducted. The company confirmed that a livestream of the launch was available on its website. This launch is a significant milestone for Virgin Galactic, which was founded in 2004.

The launch comes nearly two years after Richard Branson’s own test flight to space, which was intended to kickstart the era of profitable space tourism. However, the company faced setbacks following that flight. The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded Virgin Galactic due to the deviation of Branson’s flight from its assigned airspace and the company’s failure to communicate the incident as required. Investigations later revealed that certain materials used in Virgin Galactic’s vehicles did not meet required strength margins, leading to fleet upgrades.

In May, Virgin Galactic successfully conducted a test flight, paving the way for Thursday’s commercial mission. The company’s spaceflights involve a “mothership” aircraft with two pilots that takes off from a runway, reaches high altitude, and releases a rocket-powered plane that travels into space at nearly Mach 3 before gliding back to Earth. Passengers on the space plane experience a few minutes of weightlessness and get a view of the Earth’s curvature from over 50 miles above sea level.

The crew of Galactic 01 included Colonel Walter Villadei and Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi of the Italian Air Force, Pantaleone Carlucci of the National Research Council of Italy, and Colin Bennett of Virgin Galactic. There were also two pilots on the spaceplane and two on the mothership. During the mission, they conducted 13 supervised and autonomous experiments, collecting data on their suits and sensors in the cabin. The experiments included measuring radiation levels in the mesosphere and studying how liquids and solids mix in microgravity.

© Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic has already sold around 800 tickets for future commercial flights. Between 2005 and 2014, the company sold 600 tickets for $200,000 to $250,000 each. More recently, they sold 200 tickets for $450,000 each. The initial customers included movie stars and celebrities. However, in 2014, a spaceplane on a test flight disintegrated midair, resulting in the death of the copilot and serious injury to the pilot, causing a setback for the program.

Virgin Galactic competes in the suborbital space tourism sector with Blue Origin, the company founded by Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin has already sent 32 people into space but faced an accident during an unmanned flight in September 2022, leading to the grounding of its rocket. The company has announced plans to resume spaceflight soon.