CEO Whitesides: 425 customers for Virgin Galactic

Washington DC
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Virgin Galactic, the suborbital space tourism company, has sold 425 tickets for its suborbital flights. Each flight will include six minutes of free-floating weightlessness in space.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, provided a program update to space enthusiasts at the International Space Development Conference on 21 May in Huntsville, Alabama. Virgin Galactic is offering short suborbital flights aboard Scaled Composites-designed SpaceShipTwo.

Whitesides said that 425 individuals have put down $55 million in deposits for future flights, including Whitesides and his wife; with a capacity of six passengers, Virgin has more than 70 flights filled. "It's a sign that there really is a substantial market out there for this service, and ultimately I think it's just the tip of the iceberg."

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 ©Virgin Galactic

Tickets are selling for $200,000 a piece, and greater sales are anticipated as the first passenger-carrying flight nears. "My sense is that we're not going to [drop the price] for a while. We're seeing very strong and unchanging demand, if not slightly growing demand now." Though comprehensive market surveys are few and far between, Whitesides noted they have received "over 90,000 expressions of interest."

Passengers will undergo a three-day training process, said Whitesides, involving training in microgravity to anticipate perigee and high-g training to prepare passengers for the simulated 6-g descent from space.

The company has completed two of four major flight milestones, including an unpowered glide flight and the 4 May transition to and from the 'feathered' configuration used for atmospheric re-entry. The company is also conducting periodic ground tests of its rocket in preparation for the third major flight milestone - a rocket-powered test of SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic is constructing the second SpaceShipTwo as well as the second WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. An initial fleet of three SpaceShips and two WhiteKnights are planned.

Virgin Galactic is not actively considering an orbital spacecraft, but the company is assisting Sierra Nevada in marketing flights of their yet-unflown Dream Chaser orbital spacecraft. Virgin Galactic is, however, pondering a launch capability for launching small satellites to orbit, though any concrete proposal is in the distant horizon.

Projected turnaround time is expected to be once a week, but time on the ground is money lost: "If we could get to once a week that would be a dramatic revolution in space operations," said Whitesides, "and if we could get to once a day that would be a sort of revolution squared."