British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic wants to take one tourist a day into space, while the space company seeks to capitalize on its founder’s successful test flight over the weekend. The goal is 400 flights a year, informed its Chief Executive, Michael Colglazier, in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper.
Michael Colglazier, who took over at Virgin Galactic a year ago, however, has not set a timetable for the company to scale up its business operations and admitted that it would face major obstacles to expanding in the near term.
“I think for a while this is going to be a very tight deal,” he said, adding:
— In each spaceport, we will reach around 400 flights a year. I’m expecting high single digit numbers to low two digit spaceship numbers [em cada local]in order to achieve numbers like that.
Branson’s company shares jumped a record 22% in the American pre-market after the billionaire’s flight into space. Virgin Galactic earns nearly $1 billion in market value.
After the successful test this weekend, Virgin Galactic also plans to expand its operations at its first base in New Mexico and “find other spaceports around the world and start taking them to more places,” added Colglazier.
Branson flew with five other people, a milestone in an endeavor he started 17 years ago and which consumed more than $1 billion of his personal wealth, according to the Financial Times. Sunday’s test flight came nine days before Jeff Bezos’ first flight aboard a rocket for his private space company, Blue Origin.
The advance could give Virgin Galactic valuable extra publicity as it tries to build the first commercial space tourism business, with two more tests scheduled this year before transporting paying passengers in 2022.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Colglazier said the company plans to replace its spacecraft prototype with two new craft within the next year, designed to be more easily maintained, leading to faster interruptions between flights.
However, with room for just four passengers on each flight, Virgin Galactic faces a serious short-term seat shortage, Virgin Galactic CEO told FT.
More than 600 people invested an average of US$130,000 each for the chance to fly one of their spacecraft, while another 1,000 paid US$1,000 in deposits. Virgin plans to resume ticket sales after new tests at prices above $250,000 per person, an amount initially announced.
Branson was due to arrive in space at the end of the summer, but presented his flight plans last month, just days after Bezos announced the date of his own space trip.
Colglazier again denied that Branson was in a race to defeat Bezos. Instead, he said Branson changed his plans because there was no longer a need for a second flight to test the company’s customer experience.