29 June 2023 – The VIRTUTE-1 (Italian Flight for sUborbiTalE Research and Technology) mission took off today at 16.30 CET, from Virgin Galactic’s America Spaceport (in New Mexico – USA). The Italian crew, consisting of two Air Force Officials and an engineer from the National Research Council (CNR), departed on board the VSS Unity spaceship (SpaceShipTwo class), for a flight that lasted a full ninety minutes.
Italian Air Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Luca Goretti said: “The Italian Ministry of Defence, and in particular the Italian Air Force, with its wealth of expertise, is naturally projected towards the enhancement and protection of space defence and security. Space flights are indeed a wholly unexplored aviation domain and represent a technological challenge where Italian technical and industrial skills can fully play their part. Scientific, entrepreneurial, and military development must work hand in hand to ensure that this field is also relevant. Doing so, it will ensure that the excellence of the national aerospace sector is preserved” concluded Lt. General Goretti.
Leading the VIRTUTE-1 mission, resulting from a commercial agreement between the Italian Air Force and Virgin Galactic, is Col. Walter Villadei, a space engineer and cosmonaut, who also supervised the operational and training efforts of the Italian crew, which includes Lt. Col. Angelo Landolfi, an aerospace physician in charge of the medical aspects of the Italian crew and the medical experiments proposed by the Air Force, and Dr. Pantaleone Carlucci, an engineer and researcher from the National Research Council (CNR), in charge of the on-board experiments proposed by the CNR itself.
During the suborbital flight, following the engine shutdown, the VSS Unity cabin became a scientific laboratory in which the crew could carry out some tests – in microgravity – on medicine, advanced materials, fluid physics and physiology. The research projects were led by the Istituto di Medicina Aerospaziale dell’Aeronautica Militare (IMAS) in Milan; the Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico and the University of Milan; and the Department of Industrial Engineering and Mathematical Sciences of the Engineering Faculty of the Università Politecnica delle Marche. The information gathered will provide useful data for scientific research which can be applied not only to the technology sector, but also to the medicine one: the results will make it possible to investigate the effects of agents such as radiation, free radicals, and oxidative stress, which are the root cause of many diseases and the main cause of cellular ageing.
The VIRTUTE-1 mission, which opens up the era of commercial flights for Virgin Galactic, is consistent with the Defence Space Plan, which aims to increase – with the support of the research and industrial communities – current understanding of space, aerospace and suborbital flight, testing and evaluating the potential developments of currently available technologies.
Source Italian Air Force
Photo courtesy Virgin Galactic