Virgin Galactic sells 100 commercial spaceflight seats for $450,000 apiece

The aerospace company is on track to begin commercial service in Q4 2022

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has sold approximately 100 seats for its future commercial spaceflights at $450,000 apiece, bringing its total reservations to date to 700.

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The aerospace company is aiming to have 1,000 reservations prior to the launch of commercial service, which has been delayed to the fourth quarter of 2022.  

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Virgin says the updated price point has been "well-received" since reopening its ticket sales in August to its Spacefarer community, a group of early hand raisers who were given priority to schedule reservations after placing a $1,000 deposit in 2020. Each reservation includes a $150,000 deposit, $25,000 of which is nonrefundable. The company previously charged $250,000 per seat. 

"We believe these results from a relatively small group that had little pre-qualification showed the incredible strength and appeal of our flight and our membership community," Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier told analysts on the company's third quarter earnings call Monday. "They also indicate the significant value that people recognized in our product at current price points."

Colglazier noted sales to the initial Spacefarer group and other early hand raisers will close before the holidays.

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Virgin Galactic says more than 60,000 people have inquired about its flight information since its first fully-crewed Unity 22 mission in July, in which its VSS Unity space plane and VMS Eve mothership carried Branson and three other crew members to suborbital space and back. The selection process for its remaining open slots will begin in the first quarter of 2022. 

The rocket plane carrying Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and other crew members takes off from Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, Sunday, July 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton) (AP Newsroom)

"The overflowing demand from this group will be channeled into a new Spacefarer program, whose members will be given first access to the next tranche of space flights when they are made available," Colglazier said. 

The company will offer a variety of options for private astronaut flights, including a single-seat option, a multi-seat, couples, families and friends package and a full-flight buyout. Meanwhile, Virgin plans to charge $600,000 per seat on its future microgravity research and professional astronaut training flights. 

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VSS Unity and VMS Eve currently in an enhancement period. The modifications, subject to testing and verification, could reduce Unity's turnaround flight time to four to five weeks, down from the current rate of seven to eight weeks, and potentially allow Eve to fly 100 flights between major maintenance inspections, compared to the current interval of 10 flights.

Following the enhancement period, Virgin Galactic will conduct its Unity 23, Unity 24 and Unity 25 missions, the latter of which represents the start of commercial service with private astronauts. Unity is expected to fly on a monthly basis in 2023. 

In addition, a new space plane called VSS Imagine is expected to begin glide flight testing next year, with revenue flights kicking off in the first quarter of 2023. Imagine, which will be expected to complete two flights per month, or one about every two weeks, will start with research payloads and then proceed to join Unity with private astronaut flights in the second half of 2023.  

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Virgin Galactic is targeting up to 400 flights per year across all of its spaceports. In order to reach that goal, the company has entered into a lease agreement for a new engineering, design and collaboration center in the southern Los Angeles Basin, where its next generation motherships and Delta Class spaceships will be produced. 

"I think to reach that level, we're going to need, I think the words I have been using is high single digits, low double digits and that's obviously depending upon the churn of those ships," Colglazier said, referring to the space planes at each site. "We still expect the Delta Class to be two pilots plus six seats in the cabin. So, that's the number we need."

Over time, the Delta Class vehicles, which are designed to fly once per week, are expected to constitute the bulk of the company's flight capacity.