Virgin Galactic announced on Wednesday that its upcoming "Unity 23" mission will include the first commercial research payload in the company's launch history — that payload being three paying passengers from the Italian Air Force.
The IAF members have teamed with the National Research Council to study the effects on the human body of transitioning from full 1G gravity to the microgravity felt in orbit. The launch will also carry additional instruments designed to study the impact microgravity has on various chemical and physical properties of the surrounding environment, according to a Wednesday press release from the company.
“The Italian Air Force has always placed great importance on the understanding of space and aerospace," Lieutenant General Alberto Rosso, Chief of Staff of the Italian Air Force, said in a prepared statement. "Aerospace is the natural operational extension of our institutional duty. Strength in this domain is an asset for the country and is critical to its protection and safety, which is why the Air Force places great emphasis on further deepening its knowledge. With this mission, the Italian Air Force aims to start exploring potential implementations for this kind of vehicle - both civilian and military - and to further opportunities for technological, scientific and industrial growth.”
Unity 23, when it launches during its window between late September and early October, will be the first Virgin Galactic flight since company founder, Richard Branson and crew completed their history-making flight in July.