UK businessman Sir Richard Branson has big plans for his space tourism company Virgin Galactic, which include a stock exchange listing and global expansion with a network of space bases including, eventually, in Australia.
However, Virgin Galactic plans to conduct its first tourist flights from New Mexico, US. Sir Richard told US media he hoped to rapidly expand internationally, specifically identifying Sweden and the prospect of passengers viewing the northern lights.
He said Abu Dhabi also wanted to be involved and the company was in discussion with their officials.
He also mentioned, Italy, Great Britain and Australia as potential sites for spaceports from which Virgin Galactic could conduct space tourism flights.
Virgin Galactic’s space tourism venture will be different to how it’s been done before with a small number of the very well off paying millions for the privilege.
So far just seven paying tourists, one twice, have gone into space and stayed on the International Space Station, all through the US company Space Adventures, which was established in 1998. All travelled to and from the ISS aboard Russian missions.
Virgin Galactic's spacecraft, which is launched from a larger aircraft, can carry six passengers and two crew to the edge of space where passengers enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness.
Tickets cost around US$250,000 each. There’s no shortage of paying passengers, with more than 600 already booked, paying deposits of around US$80 million.
Virgin Galactic is a subsidiary of the Virgin Group.
Sir Richard said it would not be long before the company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Virgin Galactic will go public later this year by way of a merger with existing company Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH), created by venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya.
Palihapitiya said he viewed Virgin Galactic as a business with “software-like margins" and there was a really compelling risk-reward case behind space tourism.
"We know that millions of people are deeply inspired by human spaceflight, would love to become more involved and, ultimately, experience space for themselves,” Sir Richard said earlier this year when the listing plan was announced.
“By taking Virgin Galactic public, at this advanced point in its development, we can open space to more investors and in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts.”
This would make Virgin Galactic the first spaceflight company to be publicly owned. The other big private players, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX, are both privately owned.
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