After years of development, Virgin Galactic is finally ready to take paying customers. The company has confirmed that its first commercial spaceflight, Galactic 01, will launch between June 27th and June 30th. This inaugural mission will carry three people from Italy’s Air Force and National Research Council as they conduct microgravity research. Virgin had anticipated a late June start, but hadn’t committed to that window until now.
The company already has follow-up flights scheduled. Galactic 02 is expected to launch in early August and will carry a private crew. Virgin will fly on a monthly basis afterward, although details of future missions aren’t yet available. At least the first two flights will stream live through the company’s website.
Virgin conducted its last pre-commercial flight test, its fifth spaceflight of any kind, in late May. The company faced numerous delays and incidents getting to that point, however. The company completed its first SpaceShipTwo test flights in 2013, but paused its efforts after the deadly 2014 crash of VSS Enterprise. Flight testing didn’t resume until VSS Unity’s glide test at the end of 2016. The firm finally reached space in 2018, but had to wait until 2021 to complete its first fully crewed spaceflight with founder Richard Branson aboard. It pushed back commercial service multiple times due to varying factors, most recently delays in upgrading the VMS Eve “mothership” that carries SpaceShipTwo vehicles to their launch altitude.
The debut is important for Virgin’s business. Virgin has operated at a loss for years, losing more than $500 million just in 2022. Commercial service won’t recoup those investments quickly even at $450,000 per ticket, but it will give the company a significant source of revenue.
This isn’t the start of space tourism for Virgin. In that sense, it’s still trailing Blue Origin. Galactic 01 will put Virgin ahead of SpaceX, though, as that company’s Starship rocket has yet to reach space and isn’t expected to launch its first lunar tourist flights until late 2024 at the earliest. While Virgin is less ambitious than Elon Musk’s operation, it’s also achieving its goals sooner.