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Virgin Galactic Begins Testing Space Tourism From SpacePort America
Situated about 330 miles southwest of Albuquerque and, as the crow flies, about seven miles east of the Arizona border is a little-known campground known as Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary. The campground boasts an unobstructed, 360-degree view of the night sky and is one of only 10 dark sky sanctuaries from around the world that are certified by the International Dark Sky Association (and the only one in North America). Anyone lucky enough to have visited this campground will tell you that it’s the closest you can get to feeling as if you are floating among the stars. Closest that is, until now.
Virgin Galactic, the brainchild of billionaire adventurer Sir Richard Branson, looks like it’s finally taking steps toward the promise of hosting commercial flights to the inner reaches of outer space. Test flights will begin later this month at the (so far) socially dull SpacePort America. Officially opened in 2011, SpacePort America sits on 18,000 acres adjacent to White Sands Missile Range and has 6,000 square miles of restricted air space. The SpacePort currently serves as testing and launch sites for companies such as Boeing, EXOS Aerospace and Sugarhouse Aerospace. With the more consistent addition of Virgin Galactic to its list of tenants, the SpacePort might start to have a little more sex appeal.
The initial test flights this month will not carry any space tourists just yet, but rather, the cabin will consist of three NASA payloads. “Carrying these payloads not only makes this test flight a revenue-generating one, but also demonstrates our commitment to facilitating regular, accessible space-based scientific research”, said Mike Moses, president of space missions and safety at Virgin Galactic in an article he published on the Virgin Galactic website. “If all goes to plan, not only will this flight be the first human spaceflight to depart from New Mexico, it will also mark Virgin Galactic Pilot CJ Sturckow’s sixth time in space.”
Flying human tourists into space is not just another New Mexico tourist attraction, it also brings with it economic benefits. Currently, Virgin Galactic pays the state about $5 million per year in rent and fees. As test flights make way for actual commercial flights, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier envisions a long-term goal that the company will eventually bring in $1 billion in annual revenue per spaceport in the coming years. According to Colglazier, while discussing Virgin’s third quarter results, “To reach this objective, we are embarking on a multi-year effort that will lead to flights not once a month, or even once a week—but targets flying 400 flights per year per spaceport.” For anyone doing the math, at six seats per flight, that means a ticket price of about $400,000 per seat, but Virgin Galactic has not confirmed yet exactly what each seat will cost. Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. is a vertically integrated (catch what I did there?) aerospace and space travel company. Test flights, according to Virgin Galactic’s third quarter financial results, are expected to occur between Nov. 19 and 23. Additional flights will take place in early 2021 to test features of the interior cabin, followed by a manned flight with Sir Richard Branson along for the ride. The company is expecting ticket sales to resume after that, and I know a certain out-of-work ex-president that would do well with a shot into outer space. The view might provide some eye-opening perspectives. But, then again, probably not. [ ]