This week space tourism venture Virgin Galactic announced a new partnership with two of Italy’s biggest aerospace companies to launch people into space from the European country. The plan is to eventually conduct flights of Virgin Galactic’s passenger space-plane from Italy’s future Grottaglie Spaceport, which will be located at an airport on the heel of the country’s famous boot. If this all goes according to plan, Virgin Galactic could be the first group to launch someone into space from Italy or any other European territory.
Virgin Galactic says the goal is to build an entirely new space-plane that will remain at the Grottaglie Spaceport indefinitely. Sitael and others in the Italian aerospace industry will contribute their own technology to the vehicle. And the plane will be available to customers in the region, such as the Italian Space Agency or any private citizens who want to pay to go to space. It could also be used as a platform to do science experiments in a high-altitude gravity-less environment.
As of now, Virgin Galactic has only one active space-plane, dubbed the VSS Unity, which is still undergoing tests at the company’s launch site at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The space-plane is designed to take passengers into suborbital space, where they’ll experience a few minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth. To get to space, the vehicle is carried to a high altitude by a large carrier aircraft, called WhiteKnightTwo. The space-plane is then dropped from the carrier and ignites its engine, climbing high above the Earth. After a few minutes in micro-gravity, the plane shifts its wings to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and land on a horizontal runway.CEO Richard Branson said in a statement, “From the Renaissance to modern space science, Italy has always been a natural home to great innovators and breakthrough ideas which have shaped the human experience.” “I believe Italy’s vision, which has led to this collaboration with our Virgin space companies, will provide a real impetus as we strive to open space for the benefit of life on Earth.”