The first European crew to board Virgin Galactic will be Italian for the suborbital flight that will take off from the company’s SpacePort in the Las Cruces desert in New Mexico, between late September and early October. The crew will be composed by 2 officers of the Air Force and a researcher from the National Research Council (CNR) whose task will be to carry out experiments in the field of medicine, advanced materials, fluid dynamics up to the physiology of space flight. The two pilots of the company are also on board. The agreement signed in October 2019 with the Air Force takes shape, which for Virgin Galactic marks its first private mission with scientific purposes.
Virgin Galactic’s flight
The flight will be carried out aboard the six-seat SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, designed to fly both passengers and payloads into space for tourism and research purposes as technology now offers the ability to conduct high-atmosphere study. The Virgin Galactic mission consists of the spacecraft which, after being released from the mother plane (carrier) around 15 kilometers in height, turns on its engine by launching SpaceShipTwo towards suborbital altitudes, up to overcoming the so-called Karman line for short periods. 100 kilometers from the earth, the limit between airspace in the atmosphere and outer space. During the suborbital space flight, following the shutdown of the engine, the researchers will be able to conduct the experiments in conditions of microgravity, difficult to achieve on the ground. We then re-enter the atmosphere to descend and land towards the New Mexico spaceport.
Towards suborbital flights in Italy
«The Air Force, with the next suborbital flight will be able to acquire important expertise to be able to replicate this form of flight also on the national territory – commented Colonel Marco Galgani, deputy head of the General Office for Space of the Air Force -. To this end, the Air Force will collaborate with ENAC and ASI (the Italian Space Agency, ed) to achieve this ambitious result in the shortest possible time. On the Virgin Galactic shuttle – added Galgani – 13 scientific and aeromedical experiments will be conducted in flight in conditions of microgravity ».
The Grottaglie spaceport
The possibility of carrying out commercial space flights in Italy already has a framework within the Taranto Grottaglie airport since the ENAC (National Civil Aviation Authority) has designated it as the National Spaceport. From here the Italian suborbital flights will depart, the experimentation of which is expected to start in 2023, as recently reported by the director of ENAC, Alessio Quaranta. Once again, behind the Italian project there is the collaboration with Virgin Galactic which in 2018 signed a memorandum with Altec (the joint venture between Thales Alenia Space Italia and the Italian Space Agency, ASI) to build a spaceport and suborbital flights on the example of the SpaceShipTwo system and the WhiteKnightTwo carrier.
Space at the service of SMEs
Commercial Space Flight is therefore destined to assume more and more importance for the applications that will be made of it in the real economy. An example is the collaboration of Thales Alenia Space Italia with the American company of Houston, Axiom Space, which is planning the putting into orbit of a space station for commercial use whose pressurized modules of the station will also be built by the Italian company. Also with Axiom Space, the collaboration agreement between Military Aeronautics and the Emilia Romagna region is included to define supply contracts with small and medium-sized enterprises in the region for the completion of the modules that will make up the new space station. In the future, space will be increasingly needed to grow.