Virgin Galactic sets dates for first commercial space flights

For $450,000, you can experience a few minutes of weightlessness.

After multiple delays, billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is finally ready to begin commercial space flights — and you can snag a ticket for $450,000.

The background: In June 2021, Virgin Galactic became the first spaceline to secure permission from the FAA for commercial space flights, suggesting that it was pulling ahead of rivals Blue Origin and SpaceX in the space tourism arena.

While both of those companies planned to use rockets to send crewed capsules into space, Virgin Galactic’s idea was to put people in a spaceplane — a vehicle that can fly through Earth’s atmosphere like a plane, but also navigate space like a spacecraft.

Instead of taking off from the ground, this spaceplane, SpaceShipTwo, is lifted to an altitude of 50,000 feet and dropped by a carrier aircraft, White Knight Two. It then fires up its engines, travels to an altitude of about 55 miles, and then lands on Earth like a plane.

At the time of the FAA’s decision, Virgin Galactic said it expected to carry out its first commercial space flights in 2022, but it has had to repeatedly push back the start date for the flights due to delays refurbishing its aircraft.

In the interim, both Blue Origin and SpaceX have carried tourists into space.

What’s new? Virgin Galactic is finally ready to get back in the game, with a June 27-30 window for its first commercial space flight, Galactic 01, during which three specialists from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council of Italy will conduct microgravity research.

“With scientific payloads on board, the spaceflight will showcase the value and power of the unique suborbital science lab that Virgin Galactic offers,” according to Virgin Galactic.

Looking ahead: A second flight, Galactic 02, will follow in early August with private astronauts on board. Monthly commercial space flights are planned after that, and it seems Virgin Galactic will have no trouble finding people to crew them — over the past decade, it has sold 800 tickets.

While those originally went for $200,000 each, the company is now charging $450,000 for a trip aboard its spaceplane. In exchange, passengers receive pre-flight training, a custom spacesuit, and a 2-3 hour flight, including a 4-5 minutes of weightlessness.

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