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Virgin Galactic to fly Italian Air Force on research mission to space

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FILE PHOTO: A banner hangs on the outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) ahead of Virgin Galactic (SPCE) IPO in New York
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(Reuters) -Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc is launching its first commercial research mission named "Unity 23" along with the Italian Air Force to the edge of space, it said on Thursday.

The space travel company has set late September or early October as the time for the mission that will carry three paying crew members from the Air Force and the Rome-based government agency National Research Council.

The crew will study the effect on the human body as they move from gravity to a low-gravity atmosphere and provide insights for future spaceflight systems and technologies.

The mission follows a successful first crewed test flight to space by Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket in July.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a deviation in the descent of the flight that took billionaire Richard Branson to space.

The company had said in July that it plans at least two more test flights of the spaceplane before beginning regular commercial operation in 2022.

One of those flights will carry four Italian astronauts-in-training, according to Chief Executive Michael Colglazier.

(Reporting by Tiyashi Datta in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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