Virgin Galactic space sightseeing flights won’t begin for at least a year

Virgin Galactic is postponing its space tourism program until the second quarter of 2023, the company announced today. By the time Sir Richard Branson’s mothership is ready to carry passengers, it will be two years since Virgin Galactic brought humans to the far reaches of space.

The company has been selling tickets to the public since February this year, with the first sightseeing flights expected to begin by the end of 2022. Now, however, Virgin Galactic says its schedule will stretch at least six months longer than originally planned.

The announcement was made very quietly via Virgin Galactic’s second quarter 2022 earnings report. At the end of the commercial highlights section, the company states, “Commercial service is expected to begin in Q2 2023 due to extended completion dates under the mothership upgrade program.”

Sir Richard Branson after ringing a ceremonial bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to promote the first day of trading in shares of Virgin Galactic Holdings.Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If 2022 has proven anything for the fledgling space tourism industry, it’s that launching wealthy people into the planet’s orbit is often harder than it’s worth. This is now Virgin Galactic’s second delay of the year.

Mothership, take me home – Virgin Galactic doesn’t provide many details on why the launches were delayed, but the improvements to the company’s mothership are reason enough to put tourism on the back burner for a bit longer. The VMS Eve is an integral part of Virgin Galactic flights, carrying its passenger ships to launch altitude before they lift off into orbit.

The mothership upgrade program, which Virgin Galactic launched this summer, aims to improve the ship’s reliability and the frequency with which it can fly. In its earnings report, Virgin Galactic also revealed that Boeing would build two new motherships for the company, each designed to perform up to 200 launches per year. These will enter service around 2025.

The long-delayed gratification — Despite its many challenges, space tourism is still experiencing a boom this year. These companies have been around for decades and technology is finally catching up with their dreams. Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, expecting the company’s first flight to take place by 2010 – although that date, and essentially every other goal the company set for itself, ended up being postponed due to various issues.

Virgin Galactic ticket holders will therefore have to wait a bit longer to catch their flight into Earth orbit, but fans of the company are used to waiting, at this point. Since space tourism is generally quite detrimental to the environment, it might be better if Virgin Galactic never made any flights.

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