A different kind of space race is underway than the space race of the 20th century. Sir Richard Branson is among the competitors seeking to send commercial flights into space. His rocket company Virgin Galactic is preparing to start that journey soon.
How will flights on Virgin Galactic work and how much will it cost to secure a seat on one of them? Recently, the company announced its approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to start launching customers into space. The entrepreneur founder Branson plans to ride on one of his company’s upcoming test spaceflights as well.
Requirements for customers to fly Virgin Galactic
Known as “the world’s first commercial spaceline,” Virgin Galactic has a signup portal on its website for people who are interested in the company. The next round of reservations for space flights isn't currently open. The reservations will open up sometime following Branson’s own flight into space.
People can sign up online and indicate whether they’re interested in reservations, research, or other updates from Virgin Galactic.
Astronauts on SpaceShipTwo will undergo a three-day training program at Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America. Then, they will board SpaceShipTwo, which will launch from the carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo. Customers will also be able to get out of their seats for a few minutes to experience weightlessness before they return to Earth.
How much does a seat on a Virgin Galactic flight cost?
According to Branson, the spacecraft will “open space to everybody—and change the world for good.” Of course, the cost to reach space is significant.
Over 600 people have already reserved their seats on future Virgin Galactic flights, with a reported initial price tag of $250,000 to secure a spot. However, that price might increase with the next round of flight reservations.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is said to offer safe and comfortable exposure to G-forces. SpaceShipTwo also has more windows than any other spacecraft to provide impressive views to astronauts (passengers).
When will Virgin Galactic start flying commercially?
The third Virgin Galactic spaceflight in May successfully reached an altitude of 55 miles or 89 kilometers. CEO Michael Colglazier said that flight’s success plus the FAA approval give the company confidence moving forward, according to USA Today.
A date for the first commercial flight isn’t known yet, although it will likely happen in 2022 after the three additional test flights planned for the summer and fall.
How Virgin Galactic compares to Blue Origin and SpaceX
Virgin Galactic's key competitors in the race to commercial spaceflight are Blue Origin, the company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Recently, Blue Origin announced that its founder Jeff Bezos will fly into space on July 20, accompanied by his brother Mark Bezos and the winner of an online auction.
So far, Blue Origin hasn't made a public announcement regarding when it might start offering flights to the public or how much that privilege would cost.
According to USA Today, both SpaceX and Blue Origin will operate reusable rockets that launch fully automated capsules from the ground. In comparison, Virgin Galactic has developed a winged spacecraft that needs two pilots and launches from within an airplane.