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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Explained: What tourists can expect to pay to go to space

Apart from Virgin Galactic, companies including Virgin Atlantic, SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace, Blue Origin and Armadillo Aerospace are working on providing space tourism services to people.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 6, 2021 6:37:01 pm
The world's first space hotel, Voyager Station with approaching SpaceX Starship. (Source: Voyager Station)

Those interested in being a part of the ‘new space age’ will have to shell out thousands of dollars to get a seat aboard one of Virgin Galactic’s upcoming spaceflights. To be precise, one seat aboard a spacecraft will cost at least $450,000.

This is still less than what a winning bidder paid for in June to fly with Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos aboard the rocket system called New Shephard.

Over 7,600 people registered from 159 countries to bid for this seat, which ultimately went for a winning bid of $28 million. More than 50,000 people signed online petitions urging Bezos to not return to Earth after he took his space flight on July 20.

The announcement comes just weeks after Richard Branson, the billionaire owner of Virgin Galactic, himself reached the edge of space on July 11 when Branson along with three employees from his company boarded SpaceShipTwo.

Apart from Virgin Galactic, companies including Virgin Atlantic, SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace, Blue Origin and Armadillo Aerospace are working on providing space tourism services to people.

Space tourism is a segment of space travel that seeks to give laypeople the ability to go to space for recreational, leisure or business purposes. The idea is to make space more accessible to those individuals who are not astronauts and want to go to space for non-scientific purposes.

The announcement

SpaceShipTwo can carry a total of eight people, including two pilots, and has more windows than any other spacecraft in history, the company claims. When it was unveiled in 2016, it was named VSS Unity by Stephen Hawking. This is different from New Shephard, whose capsule is fully automated and can accommodate six passengers.

The company made the announcement on Thursday that it was resuming the sale of tickets at prices almost double of what was charged previously.

 As of now, potential customers can pay a $1000 fully refundable registration fee to Virgin Galactic, after which they will be notified as and when tickets go on sale. “Please note that, although we have not yet announced final pricing, we will be charging more than the $250,000 ticket price offered to those who signed up early,” the company said on its website previously. Therefore, compared to the $450,000, the figure charged from people who signed up early seems like a bargain.

Over 600 people have already paid to avail of its services that will take them to space. As per the BBC, singer Justin Beiber and actor Leonardo DiCaprio are among the 600 people who have already paid to become “private astronauts” who will be able to see Earth from space.

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The company’s plan is to eventually operate hundreds of spaceflights each year from Spaceport America in New Mexico, thereby opening up access to space to “ordinary citizens” who have thousands of dollars to spare for a ticket. The company says that these space flights are a step forward towards the “democratisation” of space travel.

What the customers are paying for?

The so-called private astronauts who are able to get a seat on Virgin Galactic’s space flight will take off after three days of training at Spaceport America. After their training, they will board SpaceShipTwo, which will be mated to its aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo. The spaceship will become free of the aircraft at a height of about 50,000 feet after which the rocket motor will be fired and the spaceship will propel towards space at more than three times the speed of sound.

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Once the pilots shut off the rocket motor, passengers will be able to leave their seats to experience “several minutes of true, unencumbered weightlessness. The pilots will manoeuvre the spaceship to give the best possible views of Earth and the blackness of space, while raising the vehicle’s wings to its “feathered” re-entry configuration,” the Virgin Galactic website says.

“As gravity pulls the spaceship back towards the earth’s upper atmosphere, astronauts will return to their personalised, custom-designed seats which will provide support and comfort as the air outside the spaceship thickens and the spaceship rapidly decelerates.”

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