Virgin Galactic has opened sales for the public to buy a ticket to space, with seat prices starting at $450,000 , just a few weeks after the company’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, took a high profile flight to the edge of space, just ahead of his space tourism rival, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
Virgin said on Thursday that it is making progress toward beginning revenue flights next year. It will sell single seats, package deals and entire flights.
Branson soared 55 miles (88km) above the New Mexico desert, from Virgin Galactic’s remote base where it has been developing and testing its passenger space flights, in a sub-orbital flight aboard the company’s special rocket plane on 11 July.
After experiencing a short period of weightlessness, Branson safely returned to Earth in the vehicle’s first fully crewed test flight to space, a symbolic milestone for a venture he started 17 years ago.
He thus became the first of the competing “billionaire space barons”, which includes SpaceX’s Elon Musk, to qualify officially as an astronaut in the US, although amid criticism that their money and efforts could be better spent fixing myriad problems on Earth.
“What a day … what a day, what a day, what a day,” Branson said after landing back on the tarmac. “I dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but nothing can prepare you for the view from space.”
In June, Virgin Galactic received approval from the US aviation safety regulator to fly people to space.
Sales will initially open to the company’s significant list of “early hand-raisers”, it said. The company said it will have three consumer offerings: a single seat, a multi-seat package and a full-flight buyout.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos held his own rival rocket flight just days after Branson, marking a new era in space tourism fuelled by competition between billionaires. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has already become a key partner of the US space agency Nasa.
Virgin Galactic’s next space flight is scheduled for late September in New Mexico with the Italian air force.
Virgin Galactic announced the offerings as it reported Thursday that it lost $94m in the second quarter on soaring costs for overhead and sales. The company posted revenue of $571,000, barely enough to cover one seat on a future flight.
• This article was amended on 8 August 2021. An earlier version incorrectly said that Wally Funk was a passenger alongside Richard Branson on his Virgin Galactic flight. Funk flew into space on 20 July 2021 with Jeff Bezos on the New Shepard rocket developed by his company, Blue Origin.