Space tourism venture Virgin Galactic says that 100 people purchased more expensive tickets to fly on the company’s suborbital spaceplane after it reopened ticket sales this August. That means that the company has roughly 700 ticket holders now for quick tourist trips to space, about 300 less than the 1,000 tickets Virgin Galactic is hoping to sell ahead of starting commercial flights of its vehicles. The company announced the news during its third-quarter earnings release out on Monday.
Though Virgin Galactic still has more tickets it aims to sell, the company says the additional sales from this quarter were better than expected. “We’re selling tickets ahead of the pace we planned,” Michael Colglazier, Virgin Galactic’s CEO, said during a presentation on the company’s third-quarter earnings. “The pricing strategy we announced last quarter has been well received.” Tickets were offered to a group of individuals who’d put down a refundable $1,000 deposit, showing their interest in flying with Virgin Galactic. Early next year, the company will open up ticket sales more broadly to people who inquired about flight information.
Virgin Galactic reopened ticket sales just a month after the company successfully flew its founder, billionaire Richard Branson, to the edge of space and back on the company’s primary spaceplane, called VSS Unity, in July. Taking off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, Branson flew with two test pilots and three other passengers, reaching a height of more than 53 miles before returning back to Earth.
The flight was a major spectacle, hastily scheduled nine days before rival Blue Origin flew its founder, Jeff Bezos, to the edge of space and back. And at the time, it was seemingly a major success. But in September, a story in the New Yorker revealed that Branson’s flight had actually deviated from its approved flight path when it returned to Earth. The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded Virgin Galactic as the agency investigated the incident but ultimately resolved the issue and cleared the company to fly again in mid-September.
Before the investigation came to light, Virgin Galactic decided to reopen ticket sales, arguing that there had been a “surge in consumer interest following” Branson’s flight. The company opted to list tickets at $450,000, significantly higher than the $250,000 price tag during Virgin Galactic’s initial ticketing round years ago. To secure a ticket, customers had to put down a $150,000 deposit, $25,000 of which was non-refundable, according to Colglazier. Additionally, Virgin Galactic had been targeting to fly its next mission with people in September — a flight called Unity 23 that will carry three members of the Italian Air Force. It’s meant to be Virgin Galactic’s first revenue-generating mission.
But in early September, Virgin Galactic announced a delay to Unity 23 after a third-party supplier “flagged a potential manufacturing defect in a component of the flight control actuation system” that it supplies to the company. Virgin Galactic opted to put the flight on hold and do inspections of its fleet to see if the defect was present in its vehicles. Along with VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic rolled out another vehicle, VSS Imagine, in March, and the company is working on another vehicle called VSS Inspire. Then in October, the company announced that it would not resume commercial flight operations until the end of 2022, more than a year after Branson’s flight, due to a comprehensive enhancement of the company’s vehicles. Meanwhile, VSS Imagine will not attempt its first glide flight until early 2023. That means Virgin Galactic’s customers could be waiting a while before they see space.
In its earnings report, Virgin Galactic also revealed that it had made $2.6 million in revenue this quarter but netted a total loss of $48 million, down from the $94 million net loss the company suffered in the second quarter of the year.