It’s been a few depressingly quiet months for the space tourism industry since Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson blasted off into space last summer in vehicles built by their respective companies. Interest in amateur space travel appears to have fizzled out as the omicron variant and worrying economic data captured news headlines and kept our minds fixated on business on Earth.
That’s about to change, it seems, with Branson’s Virgin Galactic announcing it will offer ticket sales to the public this week while another billionaire is snapping up rides on Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Virgin Galactic said Tuesday morning it will re-open ticket sales on Wednesday after a three-month halt, giving the public an opportunity to buy a 90-minute ride on the company’s spaceplane to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere.
The announcement came on the heel of a series of flight delays and regulatory scrutiny that tanked Virgin Galactic’s stock by 85 percent over the past 12 months. Shares shot up more than 30 percent Tuesday morning on the latest news, recovering some of its previous loss but still trading 78 percent lower than a year ago.
Virgin said ticket price will start at $450,000 per person and require a $150,000 deposit ($25,000 of which is not refundable). There will be three offerings: a single seat purchase, a double-seat package for couples or friends, and an option to book an entire flight, which has four passenger seats.
“Virgin Galactic’s decision to open up ticket sales is an encouraging step, because it indicates confidence in the company’s ability to deliver its services,” said Micah Walter-Range, president of Caelus Partners, a consulting firm specializing in the commercial space industry.
Fintech billionaire Jared Isaacman wants to go deeper into space
Buyers will join a wait list of about 700 people who reserved seats in two previous rounds of private sales. Virgin Galactic is targeting the fourth quarter of 2022 to launch the first commercial flight with a VSS Unity vehicle.
“Virgin has enough reservations. An even better demonstration of commercial viability would be to fly those passengers and bring the backlog down,” Walter-Range said. “If they can do that in a way that delights their customers, we can expect to see additional bookings both from new customers and returning ones, like Jared Isaacman’s repeat business for SpaceX.”
Jared Isaacman is the fintech billionaire who paid for SpaceX’s first all-civilian mission “Inspiration4” last September. On Monday he announced the purchase of three more flights with SpaceX aiming to fly private citizens deeper into space.
The first of the three fights, scheduled for late this year, will carry Isaacman and a research crew of three to the inner Van Allen radiation belt, a zone that stretches from about 400 to 6,000 miles (640 to 58,000 kilometers) above Earth, in a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. (Last year Inspiration4 reached an altitude of 367 miles, about 100 miles higher than the average orbital altitude of the International Space Station.)
If successful, it will be the farthest human spaceflight since NASA’s Gemini mission in 1966. The maiden flight will feature a space walk, a first for civilian mission, Isaacman told the Washington Post in an interview on Monday.
It’s unclear how much Isaacman paid for these upcoming flights. The Inspiration4 mission was billed as a fundraising campaign for the St. Jude Children’s Hospital, to which Isaacman donated $100 million. The cost of the mission was estimated in the $200 million ballpark, given that NASA pays about $55 million for each seat on SpaceX’s regular crewed missions to the ISS.