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Virgin Galactic unveils space tourism for the super rich


Enterprising: An artist’s impression of the interior of Virgin Galactic’s space cabin

Enterprising: An artist’s impression of the interior of Virgin Galactic’s space cabin

Enterprising: An artist’s impression of the interior of Virgin Galactic’s space cabin

When you're in the space- tourism business, spacious windows are essential.

And so are ample "astronaut float zones" coupled with a bevy of cameras to supply one's social media feeds, all the better to impress friends.

Virgin Galactic Holdings these covered in the cabin of its VSS Unity spaceship, which it unveiled yesterday in a virtual media tour that aimed to mimic the luxury feel of its airline and hotels offerings.

Virgin Galactic calls its spacecraft cabin the "centrepiece" of the experience it's selling for those able to afford tickets that cost upwards of $250,000. The interior space offers each customer "safety without distraction, quietly absorbing periods of sensory intensity and offering each astronaut a level of intimacy required for personal discovery and transformation."

The company has said it intends to fly its first customers into space later this year. Ahead of that milestone, Virgin Galactic last week installed a Walt Disney Co. customer-experience veteran as its new chief executive and has gradually ramped up marketing efforts to tout space joyrides as the ultimate journey for rich adventure seekers.

"When we created Virgin Galactic, we started with what we believed would be an optimal customer experience, and then built the spaceship around it," British entrepreneur and Virgin founder Richard Branson said.

The VSS Unity reaches space not from a launch pad, but from a larger aircraft.

At or above 45,000 feet, the carrier plane drops the spacecraft, which then ignites its rocket engine, propelling its two pilots and six passengers to an altitude of more than 68 miles above the Earth.

That, according to NASA, is technically in "space."

The long journey to commercial flight stretches back to 2004, when Branson founded Virgin Galactic. Arguably the pioneer in the field, his dream was dealt a deadly setback in October 2014, when a test pilot was killed during a flight in California.

The tragedy informed major redesign work over the next six years. But financial struggles would follow.

In 2018, Branson rejected a proposed $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia after the murder of U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Branson instead decided to take the company public through a 2019 merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp, a Palo Alto, California-based special purpose acquisition which took a 49pc stake.

Virgin Galactic plans to fly five spaceships in coming years and to expand internationally.

But Branson isn't the only billionaire dreaming of building a flourishing space-tourism industry.

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Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin to help expand private space exploration; and Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is constructing a massive Starship in South Texas to fly astronauts to the moon and would-be colonisers to Mars under the tag line "The road to making humanity interplanetary".


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