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You Can Hop a Suborbital Space Flight For a Cool $250,000

Photo Credit: Rob Lovesey via flickr

Virgin Galactic has signed up 625 individuals for its planned suborbital space flights, lining up revenue of at least $125 million in what CEO George Whitesides asserts is a strong sign of the excitement and potential of commercial space ventures.

Virgin’s commercial human space flights could begin next year, he added.

“That will be a fundamental shift,” Whitesides stressed. “It’s sort of like we’ve been working on this for so long in the space community that it always seems like it’s in the future. But we’re really almost there, where people will be able to buy a ticket and go down to Spaceport America, get their week of training, and … have your ‘Right Stuff’ moment.”

Speaking to the Aero Club of Washington on Aug. 13, Whitesides confirmed ticket prices are now up to $250,000 each– although he did not say how many customers agreed to that price. Before the first rocket-powered flight of the company’s SpaceShipTwo in April, Virgin was charging $200,000 and as of mid-May had signed up 590 potential private astronauts.

Regardless, all customers are paying and there are no “comps.”

Interestingly, the customer base has shifted to 60 percent foreign, according to Whitesides. Previously, half were Americans.

But that shift underscores one the company’s goals, as well as a key reason for Whitesides to speak to a Washington audience: Virgin and the rest of the nascent commercial space industry would like human-rated spacecraft to be kept off the strict U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) as part of the Obama administration’s reform of export controls.

In a move long sought by industry, the administration in May, with congressional  approval, acted to shift commercial satellites from the State Department’s U.S. Munitions List (USML) to the Commerce Department’s less restrictive Commerce Control List for export licenses. At the same time, officials proposed adding crewed space vehicles to the USML under ITAR control.

Whitesides has said previously that Virgin Galactic is considering expanding its operations to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, home of its strategic partner Aabar Investments, and maybe a planned high-latitude spaceport at Kiruna, Sweden. “Those are two interesting places,” he said before the Paris air show. “Abu Dhabi is our priority, given the substantial commitment made in our company”…

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