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The deal marks the first time a government has bought a ride on a private, suborbital space mission to conduct any kind of human-led experiments. The first research flight could take place as early as next year, the company said. “We’re delighted to work with the Italian Air Force to further space-based research and technology development through this historic mission,” Virgin’s chief executive, George Whitesides, said in a news release.
The contract announcement, plus the 2020 mission date, both lend some weight to Virgin Galactic’s recent claims that it will begin commercial operations next year. However, forgive me if I remain skeptical. Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson have been making promises like this for more than a decade, with none ever coming true.
Right now I will only believe it when they actually do it.