Virgin Galactic Successfully Launches Crewed Galactic 07 Mission

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 8, 2024 13:00
Virgin Galactic Successfully Launches Crewed Galactic 07 Mission

Virgin Galactic successfully launched its final commercial spaceflight using the VSS Unity spaceplane from Spaceport America in New Mexico today, marking a significant transition for the company as it prepares to introduce its new Delta class spaceplanes.

The mission, designated as Galactic 07, lifted off at 10:30 a.m. MT (12:30 p.m. EDT or 1630 GMT) on June 8, 2024. This is Virgin Galactic's seventh commercial spaceflight and the second mission of the year. The launch represents the culmination of years of innovation and progress in commercial space travel.

Virgin Galactic's Final Unity Mission

The Galactic 07 mission features a crew that includes Axiom Space Mission 3 (Ax-3) backup astronaut Tuva Atasever of the Turkish Space Agency and three private astronauts. Although Virgin Galactic typically does not disclose the identities of the private astronauts prior to launch, it has been revealed that one is from California, one from New York, and one from Italy.

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These individuals are part of an elite group who have paid $450,000 each to experience the thrill of space travel. Passengers on this suborbital flight will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and a unique view of Earth. Virgin Galactic's Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses, remarked, "This is a life-changing experience that very few people get to have. Seeing the Earth from space puts everything into perspective."

Transition to Delta Spaceplanes

As VSS Unity completes its final flight, Virgin Galactic is looking ahead to its next generation of spaceplanes. The Delta class spaceplanes, expected to begin testing in late 2025 and commence flights in 2026, represent a significant upgrade.

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According to Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses, the Delta ships will be more cost-efficient and easier to maintain compared to Unity. "Delta will be able to fly twice a week, compared to Unity's once-a-month schedule. This marks a monumental leap in our operational capabilities," Moses explained. The new spaceplanes are designed with advanced materials and an upgraded design, enabling them to be built faster and maintained more efficiently. This increased flight frequency will allow Virgin Galactic to meet the growing demand for commercial space travel and scientific research.

Moses further detailed the improvements: "The Delta class spaceplanes incorporate a modular design that simplifies maintenance and reduces turnaround time between flights. This efficiency is critical for scaling our operations and making space more accessible to a broader audience." The ability to conduct more frequent flights will not only serve more passengers but also support a greater number of research missions, contributing to advancements in science and technology.

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Reflecting on Past Missions

Kelly Gerardi, a researcher who flew on the Galactic 05 mission, highlighted the scientific and experiential value of these flights. During her 90-minute trip, she conducted three experiments, including the first use of a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) in suborbital spaceflight, a free-floating fluid cell experiment, and the use of Astroskin, a health monitoring device.

Gerardi emphasized the importance of commercial spaceflight in democratizing access to space and expanding opportunities for scientific research. "It was unbelievable," Gerardi said. "We've spent the better part of a decade incrementally testing technologies like microgravity. The ability to bring that research into space and benefit from continuous microgravity exposure was game-changing."

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Gerardi’s experience underscores the dual role of Virgin Galactic’s missions: providing unique experiences for passengers and advancing scientific knowledge. "The research conducted on these flights has implications far beyond the immediate results," she noted. "It can influence future space missions, improve medical technology, and even inspire new educational programs." The integration of commercial and research objectives exemplifies how private spaceflight companies like Virgin Galactic are contributing to the broader space exploration ecosystem.

The Galactic 07 mission underscores Virgin Galactic's commitment to making space travel more frequent and accessible. With the transition to the Delta class spaceplanes, the company aims to enhance its capabilities and continue its mission of providing unique spaceflight experiences and advancing scientific research in microgravity.

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As Virgin Galactic moves forward, it remains at the forefront of commercial spaceflight innovation, paving the way for a new era of space exploration. "We're on the cusp of a new chapter in space travel," said Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier. "The innovations we're introducing with the Delta class will revolutionize how we access and utilize space."

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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