After years of setbacks, Virgin Galactic has completed its first commercial flight that saw it carry 13 research payloads and three passengers from the Italian Air Force and National Research Council of Italy to the edge of space.
With Commander Michael Masucci and Pilot Nicola Pecile at the controls of the spaceplane VSS Unity, along with passengers Walter Villadei, Pantaleone Carlucci, Angelo Landolfi, and astronaut instructor Colin Bennett, the Galactic 01 mission took off on June 29, 2023 at 8:30 am MT from Spaceport America Runway 34 in New Mexico slung beneath the mothership VSS Eve. Released at an altitude of 44,500 ft (13,500 m), the craft fired its hybrid rocket engine that blasted it to an altitude of 52.9 miles (85.1 km) and a maximum velocity of Mach 2.88.
During the period of zero gravity as the spaceplane lingered on the edge of space before descending back to earth, the passengers carried out a series of autonomous and nonautonomous experiments, including the effects of weightlessness on cognitive performance and on how materials mix, as well as monitoring human body functions using special sensors.
As the VSS Unity descended, it deployed its tail booms to help slow its speed to subsonic until the air pressure was great enough for the controls to respond again. Landing was at 9:42 am MT.