Virgin Galactic will fly space tourists again on Sept. 8

The space tourism company says the Galactic 03 crew bought their tickets as far back as 2005.
Chris Young
VSS Unity firing its engine during Galactic 01.
VSS Unity firing its engine during Galactic 01.

Virgin Galactic 

Virgin Galactic's next commercial space tourism expedition will take place on September 8, the company announced in a press statement.

The spaceflight, called Galactic 03, will be the company's eighth space mission overall and its third commercial spaceflight. Galactic 03 will take three paying customers to suborbital space from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

It's another critical step in Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson's ambition to make spaceflight more accessible — though for the foreseeable future, only the world's wealthiest will be able to afford a ticket.

Virgin Galactic's third commercial spaceflight

Though Virgin Galactic hasn't named the passengers that will fly on Galactic 03, they will likely have been waiting for the ride for a long time.

Jon Goodwin, a passenger on Virgin Galactic's previous flight, Galactic 02, waited for over a decade before he got the call.

The very first commercial Virgin Galactic spaceflight doubled up as a training mission for the Italian Air Force, and two passengers on Galactic 02 won their tickets as part of a prize draw.

That means Goodwin was the first paying passenger aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceflight, and Galactic 03 will likely be the first full flight of paying passengers for the space tourism firm.

"The three Galactic 03 crewmembers are the first of Virgin Galactic's group of 'Founder' astronauts — the first customers whose forward-thinking vision and early ticket purchases helped make the dream of regular commercial spaceflights a reality," Virgin Galactic wrote in its statement, released yesterday, August 28.

"The Galactic 03 crew bought their tickets as early as 2005 and, since then, have been an active part of the company's vibrant Future Astronaut community," the statement continued.

Though these passengers have yet to be named, Virgin Galactic did state that they will fly with Colin Bennett, one of the company's astronaut instructors. Meanwhile, the VSS Unity space plane will be piloted by Nicola Pecile and Michael Masucci.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin's suborbital expeditions

Before Virgin Galactic's Galactic 01 spaceflight, the company said that starting in August, it means to continue operating its commercial spaceflights every month.

The target launch date of September 8 is in keeping with this schedule, as Galactic 02 flew to suborbital space on August 10.

Virgin Galactic flights allow passengers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness before VSS Unity descends and makes its way back down for a runway landing.

VSS Unity is carried to a high altitude by a carrier plane called VMS EVE, which drops the space plane at an altitude of approximately 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). VSS Unity then fires its rocket engine, carrying its pilots and passengers to the edge of space.

The entire experience lasts roughly an hour, including the runway liftoff, Unity release and flight, and landing.

Virgin Galactic is currently selling tickets for up to $450,000. Its main competitor, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, flies tourists to suborbital space using a vertical liftoff rocket called New Shepard. The suborbital-class rocket New Shepard is grounded following an anomaly during an uncrewed science mission last year.

However, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith recently said the company is only a "few weeks" away from launching New Shepard to the edge of space once again.

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