Virgin Galactic has revealed the crew members who will be aboard the upcoming “Galactic 01” mission on June 29th, the company’s first fully commercial crewed spaceflight. Announced on Monday, Colin Bennett, Virgin Galactic’s lead astronaut instructor, will be joined by Walter Villadei and Angelo Landolfi — two senior members of the Italian airforce — and Pantaleone Carlucci, a pilot and technical engineer from the National Research Council of Italy.
The crew will conduct several suborbital science experiments during the 90-minute flight, such as testing equipment for measuring cosmic radiation and studying various materials in microgravity conditions. The cabin of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle VSS Unity — the rocket-powered spaceplane housing Virgin Galactic’s passengers — will be converted into a suitable suborbital science lab to conduct the experiments. Former US Air Force lieutenant colonel Michael Masucci will pilot the VSS Unity, while experienced US military pilots Kelly Latimer and Jameel Janjua will fly the VMS Eve, the mothership that carries Unity into space.
“Galactic 01 is our first commercial spaceflight and we’re honored to have been selected by the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council to support their first space research mission,” said Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, in a statement. “Virgin Galactic’s research missions will usher in a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for government and research institutions for years to come.”
Virgin Galactic first signed the contract for this mission with the Italian Air Force back in 2019, estimating the flight would take place between late 2020 and early 2021. Several factors, such as supply chain issues and labor constraints, led to this being delayed. The US Federal Aviation Authority additionally grounded all Virgin Galactic flights in late 2021 until it completed an investigation into technical issues that arose during the Unity 22 mission carrying Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson.
A successful test flight conducted in May this year was Virgin Galactic’s first crewed mission in almost two years. A second commercial spaceflight dubbed “Galactic 02” is anticipated to take place in early August (though no specific dates have been provided), which the company anticipates will be followed by monthly spaceflights.
More recent space-based ventures, however, haven’t played out well for Virgin — Virgin Orbit, the company’s service for launching small commercial satellites that spun off from Virgin Galactic in 2017, ceased operations earlier this year after it was unable to secure additional funding just two months after its failed mission in Cornwall, UK.