The space company Virgin Galactic has resumed pre-sales of its tourist space flights. However, these should not start until the second half of next year, as the aircraft will initially be upgraded for regular operations. At the same time, flight prices were increased significantly – almost double what had been previously announced.
Virgin Galactic announced that the Airfares start at $ 450,000 (around 383,000 euros). At first, a ticket into space cost $ 200,000, then the price for the short trip rose to $ 250,000. The company also offers packages with multiple seats and even the full booking of a space glider. SpaceShip II (Unity) and the recently introduced SpaceShip III (Imagine) offer six passenger seats.
Ticket sales have now resumed after being temporarily suspended for a number of years. Founder and boss Richard Branson had already announced this after leaving the earth’s atmosphere during a test flight with VSS Unity about a month ago and experiencing weightlessness for a few minutes.
Space or just before it
It is disputed among experts whether Branson was actually in space: The international aviation association and many other experts see 100 kilometers above the earth as the boundary to space, but there are no binding international regulations. This is how soldiers of the US Air Force received the designation astronaut, even though they had only flown to an altitude of 50 miles (approx. 80 kilometers). For comparison: the international space station ISS is located about 400 kilometers above the earth’s surface.
Anyone who books a “space flight” with Virgin Galactic now has to be patient. At first the company gets loud SpaceNews in September one Flight with SpaceShip II on behalf of the Italian Air Force carry out. After that, both VSS Unity and the carrier aircraft VMS Eve (White Knight) will be serviced and upgraded. The first commercial flights with tourists are therefore not expected to start until the second half of 2022. A few months ago, the company was still assuming the first half of the year.
Upgrades for faster regular operation
Virgin Galactic said that the maintenance after the next flight will take longer to prepare the aircraft for regular operations. The VSS Unity currently has a processing time of seven to eight weeks between flights. This time should be reduced to four to five weeks. In addition, the carrier aircraft should be made more durable through various upgrades.
VMS Eve currently has to be thoroughly inspected and serviced after about ten flights. After the planned upgrades, the carrier aircraft should be able to complete up to 100 flights before a general inspection is necessary. These measures can be carried out now or later, after regular operation has started, which would then have to be interrupted for a certain period of time. Virgin Galactic has chosen an early date.
Test flights with SpaceShip III also in 2022
After these upgrades, the planes are to be tested with a full crew in mid-2022, before the first commercial flights take off shortly afterwards. In addition, the space company plans to begin test flights of the VSS Imagine, the next generation of its space gliders, in the second half of 2022. The project of a second SpaceShip III, the VSS Inspire, was put aside for the time being. Virgin Galactic intends to focus its resources on VSS Unity, VSS Imagine and VMS Eve instead.