LOGAN, Utah — Virgin Galactic, a leader in commercial spaceflight, made history yet again on Aug. 10, conducting its first private astronaut mission almost two decades after it began offering tickets.
Launching from Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin’s VSS Unity spaceplane, tethered to the VMS Eve mothership aircraft, ignited its hybrid rocket motor after being released by Eve, reaching a zenith of around 88.5 kilometers. The entire journey, from liftoff to landing, proceeded without a hitch, marking another significant achievement for the company.
In the wake of this monumental event, Virgin Galactic's Chief Executive, Michael Colglazier, expressed his elation, "With today's milestone, we've opened up a new chapter in space tourism. It is a testament to our unwavering commitment to making space more accessible to all."
Though this was Virgin Galactic's second commercial spaceflight, following the research-oriented Galactic 01 mission for the Italian Air Force in June, Galactic 02 was special as it carried its first space tourists, a vital segment of Virgin's clientele.
It's fascinating to think that in 2005, hopeful space tourists could secure their spot aboard the SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane for a mere $200,000. However, today, the price tag for such an out-of-this-world experience has more than doubled, standing at a whopping $450,000.
Among those fortunate enough to be onboard Galactic 02 was Jon Goodwin, an octogenarian and former Olympian, who reserved his seat in the early days of 2005. Despite his Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis in 2014, the spirit of adventure never left Goodwin. "Today was simply extraordinary. I've waited nearly 18 years for this moment, and it surpassed all my expectations," he remarked.
Accompanying Goodwin were mother-daughter duo Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers, hailing from Antigua and Barbuda. Schahaff's winning entry in a 2021 contest by nonprofit 'Space For Humanity' ensured their presence on this iconic flight. Emotionally, Schahaff commented on the overwhelming support from their homeland, "Being the first Caribbean women in space is an honor. Our nation's backing has been heartwarming."
Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut trainer, Beth Moses, was the fourth individual in the spaceplane, marking her fourth journey into space. The command of Unity was under the expert hands of CJ Sturckow, a veteran of both SpaceShipTwo and NASA's space shuttle missions. Kelly Latimer, piloting her maiden spaceflight, accompanied him.
While these flights might be revolutionary, they won't be bringing in significant revenue for Virgin Galactic in the immediate future. The company's projections for the upcoming quarters only anticipate a modest $1 million, primarily due to the lower ticket prices offered to the initial customers.
During a recent earnings call, Michael Colglazier shed light on the revenue expectations: "Given Unity's capacity and our current pricing, our short-term projection is roughly $600,000 per journey. However, we're optimistic about adding another paying traveler by 2024, pushing this to about $800,000."
The next in line, 'Galactic 03,' is slated for a September launch, reinforcing Virgin Galactic's commitment to their monthly spaceflights.
Stay tuned for more updates as Virgin Galactic pushes the boundaries of space tourism.