Virgin Galactic says it’s re-opening ticket sales for the first time in years, giving anyone who can afford it the chance to reserve a seat on the company’s rocket-powered suborbital space plane for $450,000, a significant markup over what tickets were previously sold for.
The news comes after Virgin Galactic (SPCE) founder Richard Branson took a supersonic joy ride aboard the space plane after more than a decade of pledging to be among the first to test out the technology, and the company now says it’s prepared to begin commercial operations in 2022.
Virgin Galactic says it will have three offerings: single-seat reservations (which will begin at $450,000), multi-seat reservations for families and friends, and an option to buy out all six seats on a given flight for a “modest premium,” CEO Michael Colglazier told investors during an earnings call Thursday. Seats for “microgravity research and professional astronaut training” will be priced at $600,000 each, he said.
The tickets will be offered first to a “list of early hand-raisers,” or people who joined the company’s so-called “Spacefarer Community” by putting down a $1,000 deposit in recent months.
About 1,000 people have put up the cash for such a deposit, according to Aleanna Crane, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of communications.
Virgin Galactic also previously announced that it would raffle off two seats on SpaceShipTwo to people who donate to Space For Humanity, a non-profit with the stated goal of helping to “democratize space.” The company revealed Thursday during an investor call that more than 125,000 people from 190 countries have donated.
People who do opt to put up the $450,000 for a seat may have to wait quite a while for their turn, however. More than 600 people — who purchased tickets for between $200,000 and $250,000 when Virgin Galactic sold its first batch of tickets nearly a decade ago — are already on the waiting list for their chance to take a trip to the edge of space.
It’s taken far longer than the company initially anticipated to finish the development and testing program for SpaceShipTwo, as the company’s space plane is called. Most notably, a 2014 accident during a test flight killed one of the company’s co-pilots.
Virgin Galactic has since revamped the plane’s design, partnered with a new manufacturing firm, and tested a new SpaceShipTwo on four successful flights that have reached the edge of space, including Branson’s, which took off last month.
Four astronauts are on their way home from the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, ending their five-month mission to the orbiting laboratory. The astronauts set a record for the longest time in space by a crew that launched aboard an American-built spacecraft.
SpaceShipTwo will offer customers an hour-long total experience, including a few minutes above what the American government considers to be the limit of space. Customers will ride to about 40,000 to 50,000 feet in the air while the space plane is attached to a massive winged mothership. After cruising around for about half an hour, SpaceShipTwo is then released from the mothership, fires up its rocket motor, and swoops directly upward as it roars past three times the speed of sound and reaches more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. Passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and views of the Earth before the plane heads back down to a runway landing.