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Italian team goes suborbital on Virgin Galactic’ first commercial flight

Virgin Galactic
Three Italian Air Force members and one researcher flew aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity Shuttle as it successfully completed the Virtute-1 mission, the company’s first non-test flight, in cooperation with the Italian Air Force. It happened as Rome and Washington look to bolster synergies in the space economy

Italian crew heads to space’s edge. On Thursday, Virgin Galactic launched its Virtute-1 mission, allowing its passengers to fly up to 85 kilometres and experience microgravity at the boundaries of the atmosphere. The VSS Unity Shuttle successfully landed in Spaceport America, New Mexico, 80 minutes after take-off, completing the company’s first commercial flight – and signing off on the first Italian suborbital spaceflight.

  • The mission was the result of a commercial agreement between the Italian Air Force and Virgin Galactic and had the scientific support of the National Research Council (CNR) as well as several universities.

High-altitude research. Aside from the two pilots, the crew was exclusively composed of Italians. Three hailed from the Air Force – pilot Nicola Pecile, Colonel Walter Villadei and Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi – and one, researcher Pantaleone Carlucci, from the CNR. They essentially turned the shuttle into a suborbital laboratory as they carried out experiments, ranging from the effect of microgravity on the human body and some special materials to the study of cosmic rays and the testing of a new space suit prototype.

  • Defence Minister Crosetto complimented the crew, quoting the Air Force’s Chief of Staff Luca Goretti as saying that Italy “opened a path to the future!” Enterprise Minister Adolfo Urso underscored Italy’s importance in the space sector, as confirmed in his recent trip to Washington.
  • The Chairman of Parliament’s Intel Committee and former Defence Minister, Lorenzo Guerini, also took to Twitter to congratulate both the crew and the Italian Air Force for the “great result,” which he called “a very important step forward in the aerospace domain.”

The Space between us. The mission was brought forth as Italy and the United States worked to bolster their cooperation across the space industry and their world-leading companies. All the Italian ministers who recently went to Washington touched upon the dossier with their local counterparts and worked to pave the way for Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s upcoming visit, which will surely include space talk.

  • Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, as well as ministers Crosetto and Urso, all talked space with their US counterparts, with the latter (who oversees Italy’s space policy) meeting with the US National Space Council’s Executive Secretary, Chirag Parikh.
  • Additionally, back in April, Italy’s General Space Office of the Defence General Staff signed a memorandum of understanding with the US Space Command to assign a permanent Italian liaison officer to the latter.

Image: Virgin Galactic

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