Virgin Galactic is finally ready to begin its space tourism flights in the next few months taking tourists to space, albeit for a brief but relatively affordable flight.
Background on Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, has recently announced the commencement of its commercial spaceflight services. This comes after the successful completion of the Unity 25 spaceflight and routine subsequent analysis and vehicle inspections. This is a significant milestone for the company and marks a new chapter in the realm of commercial space travel, something this writer has been exceedingly excited to welcome.
Virgin Galactic vs. SpaceX and Blue Origin
Virgin Galactic’s venture into commercial spaceflight service is in line with similar ambitions from companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, has been sending astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA and has plans for lunar and Mars missions. Blue Origin, backed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, has been focusing on suborbital tourism flights and is also developing a lunar lander.
Unlike SpaceX’s Falcon rockets which launch vertically, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system is launched mid-air from its carrier aircraft, known as WhiteKnightTwo. The SpaceShipTwo vehicle, specifically the VSS Unity, then fires its rocket motor to catapult it to space.
The Imminent Launches: Galactic 01 and Galactic 02
Virgin Galactic has set the flight window for its first commercial revenue-generating mission, called ‘Galactic 01’, to open on June 27 2023, with opportunities to fly through June 30. This mission will carry three crew members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council of Italy to conduct microgravity research, showcasing the unique suborbital science lab that Virgin Galactic offers.
Following the first commercial flight, the second one, ‘Galactic 02’, is slated for early August 2023, and Virgin Galactic plans for monthly spaceflights thereafter. Completing its final tests in the coming weeks is crucial to success.
The Flight That Was Forever In Doubt
Virgin Galactic has been decades in the making, from a custom delivery vessel, a fatal test flight, a questionable billionaire in space demonstration, and the extended wait has made most doubtful that it will ever happen. The company’s stock (SPCE) closed at an all-time high on June 25, 2021, at $55.91 and a market cap of more than $16bn around the time of Branson’s test flight. But since then, the stock is down more than 90%, Virgin Orbit – a spin-off for satellite launches – declared bankruptcy and its assets were ultimately acquired out of auction for less than 1% of the IPO price, about $36 million.
Further, while Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin, and SpaceX continue to operate human spaceflights since the great billionaire rush in the summer of 2021, Galactic has not which further suggested that it may never materialize.
Cost of a Virgin Galactic Flight
A journey to the edge of space with Virgin Galactic comes with a hefty price tag. As per the company’s pricing, the total cost of a flight is $450,000, which includes a $125,000 fully refundable deposit and a $25,000 nonrefundable Future Astronaut community access fee. The initial launch prices were closer to $250,000 per seat.
Comparatively, it’s said that Blue Origin charged $28MM per seat for a ten-minute space experience. SpaceX has not released its costs for tourist flights nor a formal plan to do so but rather focused on charter flights.
Celebrities Signing Up for the Space Adventure
The allure of experiencing space has attracted various celebrities who have signed up for Virgin Galactic’s space flights. Notable names include Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Tom Hanks, and Ashton Kutcher, amongst others. For what it’s worth, Blue Origin has sent William Shatner and Michael Strahan to weightlessness before safely returning.
Virgin Galactic’s transition into commercial spaceflight service is an exciting development in the space tourism industry. With the first flight scheduled for June 27, 2023 and a line-up of celebrity passengers, all eyes will be on this pioneering venture. As we move closer to the launch dates, I eagerly await the experiences of the first customers of Virgin Galactic, which will undoubtedly pave the way for more advancements in space tourism and really start to open the doors to legitimate space tourism opportunities.
What do you think? Will Virgin Galactic make it this time? Will regular space flights encourage growth for those who can afford it?