Richard Branson’s space tourism firm, Virgin Galactic Holdings (SPCE.N), said that its long-awaited commercial spaceflight service will be launched later this month, driving its shares up more than 55% in after-bell trade.

The first spaceflight, called “Galactic 01”, is planned between June 27 and June 30, the company said.

“Galactic 02” will follow in early August, with monthly spaceflights expected thereafter, the company said.

Three members of the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council will travel into space on the first mission in June to conduct microgravity research, and the company said its first private astronauts will travel into space on the second mission in August.

Due to delays in the company’s commercial service debut, Virgin Galactic’s worth in shares lost nearly two-thirds last year. Aftermarket trade saw shares rising to $6.30.

Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane

Virgin Galactic has been working for years to send paying customers on short spaceflights and in 2021 the company got final approval from the federal government. In May, the company finished its final test fight.

Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft gets released from a carrier aircraft after reaching  an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,000 meters) and drops momentarily before igniting its rocket motor.

A few minutes of weightlessness and a view of the Planet against the blackness of space are provided to passengers on the spacecraft. Unity then gets back to Earth through glide, landing on an unpowered runway.

Unity has flown five suborbital test planes, the most recent being on May 25. The company grounded Unity and Eve for a while to perform maintenance and upgrade work that prepared both vehicles for the increased flight rate of commercial service. That most recent mission was Virgin Galactic’s first trip into space since July 2021.

Over the past decade, Virgin Galactic has sold around 800 tickets, with the first batch going for $200,000 each. Each ticket now costs $450,000.

In the not-too-distant future, there will be plenty more chances to fly, since Virgin Galactic is building a fleet of new “Delta-class” planes that the company says will be able to launch once a week. According to Virgin Galactic, these new planes should begin flying at full capacity in 2026.

Not only does Virgin Galactic take paying customers into suborbital space, but Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight company Blue Origin also does it with its New Shepard craft. Since September 2022, when it had an anomaly on an unoccupied research flight, New Shepard has not been launched.

However, it said in February that the arduous upgrade process for its center’s tourist spacecraft had been completed, clearing the way for its firstborn commercial this journey. The company’s stock price has risen by about 16 percent so far in 2023.

According to Virgin Galactic, the first commercial voyage will carry three crew members from the Italian Air Force and the Italian National Research Council to conduct microgravity research.


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