As England braced itself for the Euro 2020 final, one of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs went where few have gone before.
Years of investment, development and trial and error came to fruition yesterday when Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity successfully reached space.
Achieving speeds of Mach 3, VSS Unity reached an altitude of 53.5 miles before safely making its way back to Spaceport America in New Mexico.
This wasn’t the first successful flight for VSS Unity. However, it was notable for having included Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson, who hailed the achievement as a seminal moment for the company and space tourism.
“We are at the vanguard of a new space age. As Virgin’s founder, I was honoured to test the incredible customer experience as part of this remarkable crew of mission specialists and now astronauts,” Sir Richard said.
“I can’t wait to share this experience with aspiring astronauts around the world. Our mission is to make space more accessible to all,” he added.
Chief executive Michael Colglazier echoed Sir Richard’s comments, remarking that Virgin Galactic’s work will, one day, open space up “to the many and not just for the few”.
Yesterday’s flight was, undoubtedly, a grand achievement and marked a pivotal moment for the global commercial space sector.
Similarly, the sentiment is one that very few would disagree with; boosting awareness and engagement is a huge positive. However, to suggest that this billionaire space race will open things up to the many is a gross exaggeration.
Long-term, the argument is that increased availability and the frequency of such excursions will make it more accessible. However, when examining the prices for a ticket with Virgin Galactic, it becomes obvious that this will be nothing more than a vanity trip for those wealthy enough.
The cost of a seat on VSS Unity would set passengers back around £180,000. For context, the average house price in Scotland (as of June 2021) stands at just over £161,000.
Not a bad price tag if you’re willing to sell everything for a few minutes in space.
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Despite steep prices, Virgin Galactic boasts an extensive waiting list for its space flights. More than 600 people from at least 58 countries globally have signed up and paid handsomely for the experience.
Virgin Galactic flights won’t always be made up of super wealthy passengers, Sir Richard revealed. Upon returning to earth, he unveiled a partnership with fundraiser platform, Omaze.
The deal will see the operator gift two tickets for free through a lottery-style system aimed at opening flights up to a broader range of people. How nice of them.
Virgin Galactic isn’t the only operator with demanding hefty fees. Earlier this year, an unnamed individual paid a whopping $28 million to travel into space aboard the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket.
Admittedly, this price tag is likely due to the fact Jeff Bezos will be sat next to them.
Blue Origin is yet to reveal the cost for seat prices on New Shepard, but one can imagine the prices will also be steep.
In terms of price and experience, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic both pale in comparison with other options out there currently.
For example, three individuals paid a staggering $55 million each to Houston-based Axiom Space to secure a place on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
This excursion will see the trio visit and stay on-board the International Space Station – a far different experience to a low-orbit jolly.