- By Peter Hoskins
- Business reporter
Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic said it would launch its first commercial flight before the end of this month.
The company is targeting a launch window for the flight, which is called Galactic 01, from June 27 to June 30.
In May, Virgin Orbit – a separate space company owned by the British billionaire – shut down after months of mission failures.
The first flight will be a science research mission, Virgin Galactic said, carrying three personnel from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council of Italy to conduct microgravity research.
The company said its second commercial spaceflight will follow in early August, and it expects to conduct 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, Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane, dubbed Unity, returned to action after a gap of nearly two years.
The vehicle, with two pilots and four passengers on board, soared high above the New Mexico desert in the US to the edge of space – before backing off.
It was described as the vehicle’s last test flight before the company’s long-awaited commercial service launch.
Virgin Galactic has sold more than 800 tickets to people who want to ride more than 80 kilometers (260,000 feet) above the ground.
The rides are designed to give passengers views from space at the top of the climb and allow them a few minutes to experience weightlessness. It costs $450,000 (£352,170) per person.
While Virgin Galactic focuses on space tourism, Sir Richard also had ambitions to launch satellites with his rocket company, Virgin Orbit.
However, Virgin Orbit was shut down in May after the failure of a mission that was described as a potential landmark for UK space exploration.
Earlier in the year, the company, which was set up to launch the satellites, halted operations in an effort to shore up its finances.
Virgin Orbit has now sold a few items, including its converted Cosmic Girl plane and most of its headquarters in California.
It was a turbulent period for the Virgin boss.
Sir Richard told the BBC in May that he had personally lost around £1.5 billion (£1.9 billion) during the pandemic after the shutdown hit his airlines and leisure businesses.
“There was a time when I thought we were going to lose everything,” he said. However, he has managed to retain his billionaire status – he has a net worth of £2.4 billion according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List.
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