On Thursday, June 29, 2023, Virgin Galactic reached a new milestone by sending its first paying customers into space. The event was a welcome achievement for the company and confirmed its leadership in the emerging private spaceflight sector.
Italian Air Force officers, including Colonel Walter Villadei and Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi, were among the first customers to soar to an altitude of 85.1 kilometers above sea level. They enjoyed a few minutes of weightlessness and admired the view out the windows at the curve of the Earth. Colonel Villadei shared his impression of the flight at a press conference, noting the contrast between the blackness of space and the planet below.
The mission, dubbed Galactic 01, began with the takeoff of a giant twin-bodied base plane from Spaceport America, New Mexico. Forty minutes later, the carrier plane released the VSS Unity spaceplane, which soared into space at nearly Mach 3. According to NASA and the U.S. Air Force, an altitude of 50 miles is considered the boundary of space, but the internationally recognized boundary, known as the Carman Line, is at an altitude of 62 miles.
The Galactic 01 crew also included researchers from the Italian National Research Council and Virgin Galactic. The flight was successful and VSS Unity returned to Earth without incident.
The event took place almost two years after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson made his first flight into space. It was intended to usher in a new era of profitable space tourism. After that, however, the company faced setbacks, including a temporary suspension of flights due to airspace disruption and insufficient strength of some materials. But after a successful test in May 2023, Virgin Galactic resumed its flights and made a commercial flight on Thursday.
Virgin Galactic offers customers the opportunity to experience weightlessness and participate in microgravity experiments. As part of the Galactic 01 mission, the crew conducted 13 controlled and autonomous experiments, collecting data on radiation in the mesosphere and mixing liquids and solids in weightlessness. Colonel Villadei noted that parabolic flight or missions to the International Space Station have their limitations, while the Virgin Galactic space plane allows for more extensive experiments.
This event ushers in a new era of space tourism and gives people the opportunity to experience unique experiences previously available only to astronauts. Virgin Galactic plans to conduct monthly commercial flights and continue to develop this industry in the future.