By Claire Ferris Lay
Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn expects to launch test flights by 2011.
Virgin Galactic, the space tourism arm of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, has signed up 20 Gulf space tourists and taken more than $45m in customer deposits, the company’s president said on Wednesday.Virgin Galactic, which counts physicist Stephen Hawkins and ex-racing driver Niki Lauda amongst its customers, plans to sell all of its tickets for the venture’s first year of operations by the time it goes commercial, Will Whitehorn said on the sidelines of the World Space Risk Forum in Dubai.
“The Gulf region is also pretty strong at the moment, we’re over 20 tickets sold in this region. We’ve just gone through the 325 mark [for tickets sold], heading towards 330,” said Whitehorn.
“Over half the first year’s operation is already sold and our ambition is to sell the whole of the first year’s operation by the time we go commercial.”
In July, Virgin Galactic sold a 32 percent stake worth $280m to Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments, valuing the company at $900m.
Whitehorn declined to say when the first commercial flights would happen but said it would launch its test flights by 2011.
“The spaceport will be open next year and we will hopefully test flights into space next year,” he said. “I will not say whether [commercial space flights will begin in] 2011, 2012 or 2013. It's going to be when we're ready.”