Virgin Galactic, no longer a virgin to commercial spaceflight after last month’s successful maiden voyage, is gearing up for its second mission with paying customers.
The space tourism venture backed by billionaire Richard Branson announced Thursday that its Galactic 02 mission may lift off as soon as August 10. Like the firm’s previous mission, Galactic 01, next month’s flight will be live streamed from launch to landing.
The company’s inaugural commercial flight took three Italian engineers to the edge of the atmosphere to conduct zero-gravity experiments. But Galactic 02 is billed as a private astronaut mission—in other words, it’ll be more recreational.
Virgin Galactic has yet to release the names of Galactic 02’s crew and pilots, saying those details will be made public closer to launch. Each of the three passengers on next month’s mission paid between $200,000 and $450,000 for their spots.
In June, the space tourism firm completed an impressive maiden voyage, with no perceptible hiccups throughout the flight.
At 10:40 a.m. EDT on June 29, Virgin Galactic’s VMS Eve mothership took off from the runway at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert, carrying the VSS Unity spaceship to a height of 40,000 feet. A few minutes later, Unity successfully separated from Eve, ignited its booster, and ascended 50 miles above the ground at three times the speed of sound.
At that altitude—considered to be the edge of the atmosphere and high enough to be awarded astronaut wings—researchers conducted more than a dozen experiments and were treated to some stunning views. Then, through a process Virgin Galactic calls “feathering,” Unity realigned itself toward the Earth, descended, and glided along its wings into a runway landing.
Next month’s Galactic 02 mission should look nearly identical, if all goes according to plan. That’s no guarantee in the business of space tourism. For example, Virgin Galactic’s rival—Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin—has been grounded since a 2022 mishap sparked an FAA investigation and engineering delays.
Blue Origin expects to return to flight later this year and has already completed several commercial trips to the edge of the atmosphere. But with the company’s New Shepard rocket still earthbound, Virgin Galactic is capitalizing on the space tourism void.
If Galactic 02 is as successful as its predecessor, Branson’s company expects to launch routine monthly flights. Of note, though, is that the mission would represent the company’s seventh spaceflight—and just its fourth with humans onboard.