Later today, Virgin Galactic is scheduled to launch its first commercial flight into space. The flight, Galactic 01, is due for takeoff at 11 AM Eastern time from Spaceport America in New Mexico. You can watch the live stream below.
Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane will be launched mid-air from a carrier plane at around 9.4 miles altitude, before the spacecraft’s rocket propels the crew into sub-orbital space at least 50 miles above Earth, offering them five minutes of weightlessness.
The flight will last about 90 minutes and will carry three crew members from the Italian Air Force and National Research Council of Italy, along with a Virgin Galactic astronaut instructor. During the journey, the crew will conduct experiments in biomedicine, thermo-fluid dynamics, and microgravity.
Tourist flights will begin in August and are planned to launch monthly afterward.
A 90-minute trip will cost $450,000 per person. Though that seems pretty pricey for an hour-and-a-half experience, Virgin Galactic says there’s plenty of demand, with several hundred customers already on the waiting list.
Space tourism isn’t new. American Dennis Tito became the first space tourist in 2001, paying $20m to Russia for a week-long stay at the International Space Station. Between 2001 and 2009, eight more space tourists embarked on Russian spaceflights.
In 2022, three wealthy businessmen flew to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s first private charter flight, each paying $55m for the trip and accommodation. Russia has hosted several visitors at the space station, including a movie crew and a Japanese fashion tycoon and his assistant in 2021.
Jeff Bezos’ company, Blue Origin, completed its first human flight in 2021, carrying four private citizens, including Bezos himself.
It’s worth approaching Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight today with measured enthusiasm. Although the venture marks a step towards making space travel more accessible, the extremely high price tag continues to keep it within the reach of an extremely wealthy few. The safety of these trips is also under a lot of scrutiny alongside the rest of the adventure tourism industry after the tragic Titan submersible implosion last week. With several high-profile companies entering the race for civilian space travel, it’s important to remember the sector is still in its infancy and has a long way to go before it becomes commonplace.