Virgin Galactic has again delayed the launch of its space tourism service, leaving those who have already shelled out a ticket having to wait even longer before they can get the ride of a lifetime.
In an announcement Thursday, Virgin Galactic said it is now targeting the second quarter of 2023 for the launch of its commercial space tourism service instead of the first quarter. It’s the third such delay in 10 months, and there’s no guarantee it won’t be the last.
The delay is due to the fact that the upgrade work on the VMS Eve carrier aircraft is taking longer than expected. Eve will transport space tourists inside the VSS spaceplane to 50,000 feet, before launching it toward the Kármán line, the point 62 miles above Earth that is generally considered the edge of the space.
The update will be disappointing for the roughly 600 people who years ago shelled out $250,000 for the one-time experience, as well as the roughly 100 people who recently paid the $450,000 fee.
Despite the setback, Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, made it clear that other preparations for the commercial space tourism service continue to progress, saying: “While our near-term plans now call for the launch of a commercial in the second quarter of 2023, progress on our future fleet continues and many key elements of our roadmap are now in place to significantly scale the business.
Boeing is involved in this future fleet, whose Aurora unit has partnered with Virgin Galactic to build new carrier aircraft. A new space plane called Imagine is also in the works.
To give people an idea of what to expect on the 90-minute Virgin Galactic sightseeing experience, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson boarded the first test flight in full crew. Interior camera footage showed the crew of six marveling at the curvature of the Earth while floating in the cabin for several minutes in zero gravity.
Its main competitor in the space tourism sector, Blue Origin, has flown six crewed missions since the first one a year ago. The most recent theft was on August 4.
A few years ago, the two companies seemed to be neck and neck in the race to become the first to launch on a regular or near-regular basis – a race that Blue Origin clearly won.