Virgin Galactic Gets Crewed Spaceflight Contract

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Branson’s Ambitious Space Company Could See a Crewed Spaceflight Next Year—A First for Public/Private Space Partnership

Space nerds and those looking to cash in on the space boom will be thrilled next year. If we believe the current tech-billionaires, anyway. Musk says Starship could fly soon. China’s getting ready to launch its own crew capsule. And now Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s company, landed the first government contract for a crewed spaceflight aboard a private spacecraft.

European Space Partnership

The government in question is Italy. The Italian Air Force plans to send a crew of three astronauts and a smattering of scientific accouterments into suborbital space. That plan now officially includes a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, which could launch—you guessed it—next year.

Scientific missions aboard the flight will focus on human reactions to long term gravitational changes, as well as ecologically-friendly fuel alternatives. 

In a statement, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said, “We’re delighted to work with the Italian air force to further space-based research-and-technology development through this historic mission.” He then continued, “The experiments they plan to test on SpaceShipTwo will expand our understanding of space science, and the researchers’ active participation will demonstrate an important new avenue for space research.”

First, You Say?

While Virgin Galactic and other commercial space organizations have partnered with government agencies before, this will be the first contract to include a crewed-mission. Of course, SpaceShipTwo wasn’t only made for government jobs. Over 600 private individuals have already made deposits on the quarter-million-dollar flights.

What About Those Other Companies?

On this side of the pond, Virgin doesn’t get a whole lot of press. For that matter, neither does Blue Origin—Jeff Bezos’ company—nor Boeing. It’s kind of hard to ignore Elon Musk and the flashy behemoth that is SpaceX, after all. The reality, however, is that Virgin has done a really great job of using its aerospace expertise to come up with innovative launch solutions. Those solutions have kept them very much alive in the corporate space race. In fact, SpaceShipTwo has already been to suborbital space twice.

Virgin’s launch system involves the smaller SpaceShipTwo craft and a larger launch vehicle called WhiteKnightTwo. WhiteKnightTwo is a large plane that carries SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet. Then it drops the smaller craft and SpaceShipTwo is free to head for suborbital space with up to six passengers. 

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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