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Virgin Galactic to Fly Italian Air Force Specialists to Space for Experiments

This week marked the passing of a major milestone for commercial space operators: for the first time in history, a government organization asked to have its people flown into space onboard a spaceship of a private contractor.
VSS Unity spacecraft 4 photos
Earth seen from VSS UnityEarth seen from VSS UnityEarth seen from VSS Unity
That government organization is the Italian Air Force, who in the first few months of 2020 plans to send three of its employees to the edge of space on board a Virgin Galactic spacecraft.

The three will carry with them a host of research payloads, including experiments meant to show the biological effects of the transitional phase from gravity to microgravity on the human body. It’s unclear what the Italian Air Force is planning to do with this knowledge, as the country has a very flimsy space exploration program.

But then again Virgin’s space services are flimsy as well. The company’s way of doing things only allows for a limited time of spaceflight, and that at the very edge of space.

In December 2018, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane reached an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 km), barely passing beyond the 50 miles (80.4 km) limit controversially recognized as the border between the comfort of Earth and the big void of nothingness.

Probably the next flight will be just as marginal, giving the Italian specialists very little time to do what they plan on doing. According to Virgin Galactic, as soon as the spacecraft is in orbit, the researchers will leave their seats and perform their experiments in the limited time they have in zero-G.

Nonetheless, this flight could mark a major shift in national space exploration programs. Freed from the burden of having to build their own spacecraft, governments across the world might soon turn to the likes of Virgin, SpaceX and Blue Origin to have their people sent up to learn whatever it is each country considers worthy of learning.

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