LAS CRUCES, N.M. — The price of a ticket to space on Virgin Galactic’s suborbital SpaceShipTwo will likely increase as the private spaceflight company gears up for its first commercial flights, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said here at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight.
More than 600 prospective space tourists have purchased tickets to take short flights on the six-passenger space plane since tickets first went on sale in 2004. At the time, the price of a ticket was $200,000, and Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson said commercial operations would begin within three years.
In 2013, Virgin Galactic raised its ticket price to $250,000 — this time, suggesting that the first space tourists could fly in 2014. But on Oct. 31, 2014, a SpaceShipTwo Unity trial ended in tragedy when the spacecraft broke apart during a powered test flight killing one pilot and critically injuring another.
Aside from two successful piloted test flights, no passengers have flown on SpaceShipTwo, and the wait has even prompted some ticket holders to request refunds.
Virgin Galactic is now aiming to start flying paying customers sometime in 2020, but the company has been cautious about announcing a more specific timeline after years of delays. And although the ultimate goal of Virgin Galactic’s space tourism activities is to make spaceflight more affordable and accessible, ticket prices will need to go up before they can come down, Whitesides said.
“I think it’s going to be a few years” before ticket prices drop below $60,000, Whitesides said. “We anticipate that the price of the tickets will actually go up once we start selling [more] tickets. What we believe is that we actually underpriced the ticket price a bit in early years, so I think the ticket price will go up for a bit. But then at some point, obviously, Richard’s vision and my vision is to bring that price down so that it is more accessible to more people.”
Whitesides did not specify how much new ticket buyers can expect to spend or exactly when Virgin Galactic plans to raise the price.
Once Virgin Galactic ramps up its commercial operations, the company will be able to lower its operating costs, thereby reducing the price of a seat on SpaceShipTwo. The company projected that it will experience a $104 million loss in 2020 while it gets its space tourism program off the ground, but it expects to break even in 2021 and rake in about $274 million in earnings by 2023, according to a report that Virgin Galactic filed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in December 2018.