Richard Branson to lead Virgin Galactic's commercial space flights, as ticket deposits reopen

The first round of seats went for about $250,000 per person

Virgin Galactic is laser-focused on its “number one priority” of sending founder Richard Branson into space this year, kicking off its commercial space flights.

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During the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call Tuesday, executives said they would reopen the opportunity for interested tourists to put down a deposit for a commercial flight to space – but that the top priority is sending Branson into the atmosphere later this year.

Branson’s flight will mark the “next phase of commercial human spaceflight,” company executives said.

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Virgin Galactic said it planned to reopen sales for commercial tickets, and it would begin taking $1,000 deposits on Wednesday. The “One Small Step” initiative is a chance for interested participants to register in order to get the first shot at buying tickets when they eventually go on sale.

Executives declined to say how large the next tranche of seats would be, and what the ultimate price of tickets would be. They did confirm, however, that ticket prices will be higher based on “extreme interest” and a “great product.”

The first round of seats went for about $250,000 per person.

“We think we’re going to be a supply-constrained business for a while,” company executives explained.

About 8,000 people have expressed interest in flying with the company. Six-hundred people have already paid a full or partial deposit.

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Virgin Galactic also noted its engineers are working on hypersonic transportation, which could, for example, cut the travel time between Los Angeles and Tokyo by nine hours.

Virgin Galactic reported a $73 million loss on Tuesday, up from $46 million last year.

CEO George Whitesides said he expects to see a ramp-up in revenue and cash flow in 2021, adding that Virgin Galactic has no debt on its balance sheet and a strong cash position.

The company is going through the final regulatory process with the Federal Aviation Administration to fly customers to space, which involves verifying and validating its commercial license. Executives said it had cleared 20 of 29 phases.

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