Virgin Galactic is finally getting close to that moment when it can put tourists (or at least, its founder) into space. CNBC has learned through an FCC filing that Virgin Galactic will conduct the first of its last two crewed SpaceShipTwo tests on October 22nd using Spaceport America in New Mexico. That mission will have two test pilots onboard, while an already acknowledged second flight will carry four “mission specialists.”
The carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, will go through four-hour test flights between October 1st and October 7th.
If all goes well, the two tests will be the last before Virgin’s space tourism starts in earnest. It hopes to fly company founder Sir Richard Branson into space sometime in the first quarter of 2021, effectively kicking off the company’s tourist business. Not that you’ll want to rush to the front of the line. With tickets costing $250,000 each (and possibly more), Virgin Galactic’s initial service will cater solely to wealthy people eager to say they’ve been to space.
This will be the first spaceflight from Spaceport America, and will be the first since a February 2019 test. A lot is riding on these last tests besides Virgin’s pride. The company is still bleeding money, with a net loss of $63 million in the second quarter of 2020. It can’t really recoup its losses until it’s serving paying customers, and that means finishing its pre-service tests in a timely fashion.