Richard Branson: Virgin Galactic’s commercial space flights will begin this month

  • By Peter Hoskins
  • Business Correspondent

image source, Virgin Galactic

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Virgin Galactic Unity vehicle

Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic says it will launch its first commercial flight by the end of this month.

The company is targeting a June 27 to June 30 launch window for the aircraft, dubbed Galactic 01.

In May, Virgin Orbit — a private space company owned by a UK billionaire — shut down months after a failed mission.

Virgin Galactic said the flight will be the first scientific research mission to carry three crew members from the Italian Air Force and Italy’s National Research Council to conduct microgravity research.

The company said its second commercial spaceflight will continue in early August and expects to operate monthly spaceflights from then on.

It marks a major milestone for 19-year-old Virgin Galactic, which has had to overcome a series of accidents and technical challenges.

Last month, a Virgin Galactic rocket flight called Unity returned to action after a nearly two-year hiatus.

The vehicle, with two pilots and four passengers, soared to the edge of space above the New Mexico desert in the US – before sliding back down.

It was billed as the vehicle’s final test flight before the company’s long-awaited first commercial service launch.

Virgin Galactic has sold more than 800 tickets to people who want to ride 80km (260,000ft) above Earth.

Airplanes are designed to give passengers views from space at the top of their ascents and allow them a few minutes to experience weightlessness. It costs $450,000 (£352,170) per person.

While Virgin Galactic focused on space tourism, Sir Richard also had ambitions to launch satellites with his rocket company Virgin Orbit.

However, Virgin Orbit was closed in May after the failure of a mission billed as a potential milestone for UK space exploration.

Earlier this year, the company, which was founded to launch satellites, suspended its fundraising efforts.

Virgin Orbit has now sold assets including its converted jet Cosmic Girl and its headquarters in California.

It’s a turbulent time for the Virgin boss.

Sir Richard told the BBC in May that he had personally lost around £1.5bn (£1.9bn) during the pandemic.

“There was a time when I thought we were going to lose everything,” he said. However, he has retained his billionaire status – according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List his net worth is £2.4bn.

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See: Unity vehicle climbs to 87.2 km (54.2 mi/286,000 ft)

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