Watch Live as Virgin Galactic Launches Its First Space Tourism Flight

Virgin Galactic is gearing up to send its first commercial crew to suborbital heights as part of the inaugural mission for the private space tourism venture.

The first mission, Galactic 01, is set to launch on Thursday at 11:00 a.m. ET from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic will livestream the liftoff through its website, and you can also tune in to the live action through the feed below.

WATCH LIVE: Galactic 01 Spaceflight

For its first fully commercial mission, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity suborbital spaceplane will carry a three-person crew from the Italian Air Force and National Research Council of Italy.

The crew will be commanded by Walter Villadei, a colonel in the Italian Air Force who previously trained with NASA as a backup pilot for Axiom Space’s second commercial mission to the International Space Station. Villadei will be joined by Angelo Landolfi, a physician and lieutenant colonel at the Italian Air Force, and Pantaleone Carlucci, a researcher with Italy’s National Research Council. Accompanying the Italian crew will be Colin Bennett, Virgin Galactic’s own astronaut instructor who will assess the flight experience during the mission.

The flight will last for about 90 minutes, during which the Galactic 01 crew will conduct a series of suborbital science experiments. The mission will be carrying 13 payloads on board to conduct a variety of research on topics ranging from cosmic radiation and renewable liquid biofuels to motion sickness and cognitive conditions during spaceflight.

“Virgin Galactic’s research missions will usher in a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for government and research institutions for years to come,” Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement.

The company, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, announced that it was open for suborbital business earlier this month following the success of a suborbital test flight on May 25. The test flight, named Unity 25, saw the VMS Eve carrier aircraft take off while carrying the Unity spaceplane beneath its wings before releasing it at an altitude of 44,500 feet (13,500 meters) above the ground. Once it was released, the spaceplane fired up its rocket engines, lifting off to a maximum altitude of 54.2 miles (87 kilometers), which is a few miles shy of the internationally recognized boundary of space known as the Kármán Line.

This was the first time in nearly two years that the spaceplane had reached suborbital heights, paving the way for Virgin Galactic to officially launch its commercial trips. The follow-up mission, Galactic 02, is set to launch in early August, after which the company is planning to send a commercial crew to the edge of space every month for the price of $450,000 a ticket.

Virgin Galactic opening its business for space tourists could not come at a more unfortunate time following the tragedy that struck the Titan submersible, which imploded last week while carrying billionaire tourists to the Titanic wreckage site. The private expedition to the depths of the ocean shed light on the risks associated with extreme tourism, serving as a warning for future space tourists racing to reach new heights as part of a growing spaceflight industry.

Branson’s own private venture has had a contentious history when it comes to the safety of its crew. In 2014, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suffered an in-flight anomaly and crashed, resulting in the death of one of its pilots and the serious injury of another.

For more spaceflight in your life, follow us on Twitter and bookmark Gizmodo’s dedicated Spaceflight page.

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