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Virgin Galactic video shows what’s in store for first commercial passengers

Virgin Galactic is just hours away from launching its first-ever commercial flight to the edge of space.

Thursday’s mission comes after years of testing that included a string of setbacks, the most significant of which involved the tragic death of test pilot Michael Alsbury in a crash in 2014.

Following two fully crewed test flights, the most recent of which took place in May, Virgin Galactic is now ready to send paying passengers to an altitude of about 53 miles (86 kilometers), around seven times higher than a commercial passenger jet though several miles short of the point known as the Kármán line where space is generally considered to begin.

The passenger list includes Colonel Walter Villadei and Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi from the Italian Air Force, and Pantaleone Carlucci from the National Research Council of Italy.

A video released by the company last year offers a detailed look at the various stages of the 90-minute suborbital experience.

Virgin Galactic Spaceflight System

Thursday’s passengers and crew will take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico. They’ll travel inside VSS Unity, which at the start is carried by another aircraft called VMS Eve.

At 50,000 feet, Eve will release Unity, which will immediately fire up its rocket engine before hurtling toward the edge of space.

At its highest point, the passengers will have a few moments to enjoy the views and experience weightlessness inside the cabin. Thursday’s mission is mainly focused on scientific research, so the passengers will also busy themselves with handling some of the payloads during their short time in microgravity conditions.

Finally, VSS Unity will glide back to Earth for a runway landing at Spaceport America.

Virgin Galactic says it wants to fly its second mission in August and begin serving the hundreds of so-called “space tourists” who’ve spent up to $450,000 for the spectacular ride.

The only comparable experience is offered by Blue Origin, a rocket company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. But whereas Virgin Galactic uses a plane, Blue Origin’s involves a crew capsule atop a single-stage rocket. Following six successful crewed flights since the first one in July 2021, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket suffered a midair failure last September during a crewless mission, prompting the company to suspend operations while it investigates the incident.

Coverage of Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight begins at 11 a.m. ET on Thursday, June 29. Check this page for all the information you need to watch the event as it unfolds.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
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