Virgin Galactic has sold around 100 tickets since its founder Richard Branson’s flight last summer, with commercial services expected to begin by the end of 2022, the company said in its financial results on Monday.
The current fare is 450,000 US dollars (approx. 3.32 billion rupees) per seat and is thus well above the 200,000 to 250,000 US dollars (approx. 1.47 billion rupees – 1.84 billion rupees), which were paid by around 600 customers from 2005 to 2014.
In total, the company has now sold 700 tickets, said a spokesman for the AFP news agency.
“We are entering our fleet improvement phase with a clear roadmap to increase the durability, reliability and predictability of our vehicles in preparation for commercial service next year,” CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement.
“Demand for space is strong and we sold seats ahead of schedule.”
Founded in 2004, Virgin Galactic seeks to capitalize on the success of a high profile test mission in July in which Branson defeated Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos by a few days in their multi-billion dollar space race.
But since then, the company that flies from Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert has suffered setbacks.
In September, it was briefly grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which found the July flight was deviating from its assigned airspace, and Virgin Galactic failed to report the “mishap” as required.
In October, Virgin said it would postpone a mission with members of the Italian Air Force for several months after laboratory tests revealed that certain materials used in its vehicles may have fallen below required strength ranges, requiring further analysis.
The company is currently in the process of improving its vehicles.
Unlike Blue Origin and SpaceX, its main competitors in the burgeoning space tourism sector, Virgin Galactic deploys a massive carrier aircraft that takes off horizontally, gains altitude, and drops a rocket-powered spacecraft that then soars into space.
As a publicly traded company, Virgin Galactic also needs to be more transparent about its finances.
The cost of tickets for Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard rocket, which can jump into space and back for around ten minutes, is unknown but is likely to be significantly higher.
An online auction for the very first seat sold for $ 28 million (about Rs. 206 billion), but the winner is postponing their flight.
Seats on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which launches on a giant Falcon 9 rocket and is also contracted by NASA to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, are likely to be tens of millions of dollars.
In September, Elon Musk’s company took four private tourists on a three-day orbital mission sponsored by online payments billionaire Jared Isaacman.