Articles & stories Space Tourists Ready to Ride

Space Tourists Ready to Ride
Demand for joy rides into space appears boundless - who wouldn’t want to go? But can Virgin Galactic make it a reality, while also turning a profit?

To date, fewer than 550 lucky souls have ventured outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Virgin has already received hundreds of thousands of ticket applications and collected USD80 million in deposits, all before it can even say when it might launch its first flight. So the demand side seems secure.

The six passengers will enjoy a two-hour flight, with up to four minutes of weightlessness and literally out-of-this-world views.

“That’s time for a whole lot of fun,” said Stephen Attenborough, Commercial Director of Virgin Galactic said.

For the privilege of gaining a spot on the waiting list, would-be citizen astronauts are paying USD200,000.

Each seat comes with two windows - one on the side and another overhead - which will provide spectacular views from seats that fully recline. Imagine laying back and seeing the blackness of space, the curvature of the Earth and the glow of the planet’s upper atmosphere. 

Virgin Galactic is banking on updated technology and design, including reusable lightweight carbon composite structures and air-launched spacecraft, to slash the costs of space flight compared to the massive, ground-launched and largely disposable systems operated by governments in the U.S., Russia and China.

The company has enough cash to finish building and testing its first space craft and begin launching them from its spaceport in the New Mexico desert, said Attenborough.

“We're fine to get to the finish line,” he said. “We have generous and patient investors.”

Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments paid USD280 million for a 32 percent stake in Virgin Galactic in 2010, valuing the venture at roughly USD1 billion. Besides space travel, the company also plans to launch small commercial satellites and reintroduce supersonic passenger flights, which ended with the demise of the Concorde over a decade ago.  

A concept photo of the supersonic craft looked remarkably similar to Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser, which never got off the drawing board, but managed to garner a launch order from Virgin Airways back in 2001.

Seating on the space flights is so limited that passengers won’t have the benefit of flight attendants. Instead, they’ll spend three days in New Mexico preparing to board and move about the spacecraft, and training to deal with zero gravity.

“We don’t want you to be overwhelmed, so there’s a little bit of training,” said Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay.