Virgin Galactic to accept Bitcoin for space flights

Richard Branson says: 'All of our astronauts are pioneers … and this is one more way to be forward-thinking'

The virtual currency Bitcoin can be used to purchase pizza and to make apartment rentals – and now it can be used to buy tickets to space. Virgin Galactic, the space-flight branch of Richard Branson’s empire, announced on Friday that it will accept payments made by Bitcoin.

“All of our future astronauts are pioneers in their own right, and this is one more way to be forward-thinking,” Branson said, in a blogpost for the company. He said a female flight attendant from Hawaii purchased a Virgin Galactic ticket using bitcoin on Friday. 

Flights on Virgin Galactic cost $250,000; passengers can cancel up to three months before departure. Bitcoin topped $700 on the MT Gox exchange, where it is traded, earlier this week. Branson said on CNBC on Friday that payments will be transferred into US dollars to establish a fixed price in case the customer requests a refund.

Bitcoin’s value benefitted in recent weeks from growing support from investors, including China, who believe the decentralised currency could hold long-term promise as an alternative form of payment. 

“I have invested in some bitcoins myself and find it fascinating how a whole new global currency has been created,” Branson said. “For people who can afford to invest a little in bitcoins, it’s worth looking into.”

At a US Senate committee hearing this week, the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission called Bitcoin is a legitimate financial service, but warned that the government has little power to regulate the currency. 

Mythili Raman, the acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department, said the currency has the potential to “offer legitimate financial services and have the potential to promote more efficient global commerce”. She added that the anonymous nature of payment and inability to reserve payments might pose challenges to law enforcement. 

"We have also seen, however, that certain aspects of virtual currencies appeal to criminals and present a host of new challenges to law enforcement," Raman said.

Branson said he hopes the currency will become more widely accepted by other governments with some regulation. He also compared innovations in flight to innovations in currency and speculated that: “The days of carrying cash and coins could soon be over.” 

Contributor

Amanda Holpuch

The GuardianTramp

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