Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic says it will launch its first commercial flight before the end of this month.

The firm is targeting a launch window for the flight, which is called Galactic 01, from 27 June to 30 June.

After the announcement to investors, Virgin Galactic shares jumped more than 40% in extended New York trading.

In May, Virgin Orbit – a separate space firm owned by the UK billionaire – shut down, months after a mission failed.

Virgin Galactic said the first flight will be a scientific research mission, carrying three crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council of Italy to conduct microgravity research.

The company said its second commercial spaceflight will follow in early August, and it expects to operate monthly spaceflights from then on.

It marks a key milestone for the 19-year-old Virgin Galactic, which has had to overcome a series of accidents and technical challenges.

Last month, Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane, which is called Unity, was back in action after a gap of almost two years.

The vehicle, with two pilots and four passengers aboard, climbed high over the New Mexico desert in the US to the edge of space – before gliding back down.

It was billed as the vehicle’s final test flight before the launch of the firm’s long-awaited debut commercial service.

Virgin Galactic has sold more than 800 tickets to people who want to ride over 80km (260,000ft) above Earth.

The flights are designed to give passengers views from space at the top of its climb and allow them a few minutes to experience weightlessness. They cost $450,000 (£352,170) per person.

While Virgin Galactic focusses on space tourism, Sir Richard also had ambitions to launch satellites with his rocket company, Virgin Orbit.

However Virgin Orbit shut down in May after the failure of a mission which had been billed as a potential milestone for UK space exploration.

Earlier in the year, the firm, which was set up to launch satellites, paused operations to try to boost its finances.

Virgin Orbit has now sold off items, including its converted jet Cosmic Girl, and most of its headquarters in California.

It has been a tumultuous period for the Virgin boss.

Sir Richard told the BBC in May that he had personally lost around £1.5bn (£1.9bn) during the pandemic after lockdowns hit his airline and leisure businesses.

“There was a time when I thought we were going to lose everything”, he said. However, he has managed to retain his billionaire status – he has a net worth of £2.4bn according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List.


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