WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The cost of accessing space is falling by multiples, and that means space tourism is getting cheaper and more realistic.
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After years of setbacks, Virgin Galactic has completed its first commercial flight that saw it carry 13 research payloads and three passengers from the Italian Air Force and National Research Council of Italy to the edge of space.
With Commander Michael Masucci and Pilot Nicola Pecile at the controls of the spaceplane VSS Unity, along with passengers Walter Villadei, Pantaleone Carlucci, Angelo Landolfi, and astronaut instructor Colin Bennett, the Galactic 01 mission took off at 8:30 am Mountain Time from Spaceport America Runway 34 in New Mexico slung beneath the mothership VSS Eve. Released at an altitude of 44,500 ft (13,500 m), the craft fired its hybrid rocket engine that blasted it to an altitude of 52.9 miles (85.1 km) and a maximum velocity of Mach 2.88.
During the period of zero gravity as the spaceplane lingered on the edge of space before descending back to earth, the passengers carried out a series of autonomous and non-autonomous experiments, including the effects of weightlessness on cognitive performance and on how materials mix, as well as monitoring human body functions using special sensors.
As the VSS Unity descended, it deployed its tail booms to help slow its speed to subsonic until the air pressure was great enough for the controls to respond again. Landing was at 9:42 am.
We have blast off!
According to the company, the flight will be followed in August by Galactic 02, with monthly flights for paying civilian passengers, including space tourists, coming afterwards.
“Today, our team successfully flew six people and more than a dozen research payloads to space in VSS Unity, our unique, suborbital science lab;” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic. “This historic flight was our first commercial flight and our first dedicated commercial research mission – ushering in a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for private passengers and researchers. ‘Galactic 02,’ our first spaceflight with private astronauts, is planned for August and we expect VSS Unity to continue with monthly space missions while we simultaneously work to scale our future spaceship fleet for a global audience.”
Source: Virgin Galactic