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Virgin Galactic opens ticket sales to the general public

Planning a vacation this year? How about something a little more weightless?

Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, announced Tuesday that it will begin selling tickets this week for joyrides to the edge of space. The cost: a whopping $450,000.

Starting Wednesday, members of the public will be able to reserve a spot on an upcoming suborbital spaceflight.

“We plan to have our first 1,000 customers on board at the start of commercial service later this year,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement.

During the 90-minute flight, passengers will reach an altitude of more than 50 miles and experience roughly four minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth.

Space tourists will fly aboard the company’s rocket-powered vehicle, known as SpaceShipTwo Unity. The craft is designed to take off on a conventional runway while attached to the underbelly of a carrier ship. The vehicles fly to 50,000 feet, where Unity is released and its engine ignites to power it to the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic’s joyrides take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Reservations include several days of training and spaceflight preparedness programs, according to the company.

Last year, Branson himself flew to the edge of space on Virgin Galactic’s first expedition with a full crew. That July flight later became the focus of a mishap investigation by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, after it was determined that the SpaceShipTwo craft went off course from its assigned airspace during its descent.

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The FAA grounded the space tourism company while the investigation took place, but in late September, Virgin Galactic was cleared to return to flight. At the time, the FAA said the company had made “required changes” to how it communicates during missions. Virgin Galactic also said it had taken steps to expand protected airspace for upcoming flights.

Branson’s suborbital jaunt in 2021 came less than two weeks before fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos also reached the edge of space aboard a rocket and capsule designed by his own space company, Blue Origin.

The much-hyped stunts marked a new era in the private spaceflight industry, fueled by rivalries among companies such as Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.

Blue Origin has not announced how much suborbital flights aboard its New Shepard rocket and capsule will cost, though tickets are likely to be in the range of several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

SpaceX, which has been ferrying NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station since 2020, has been more focused on orbital tourism. The company made history last year after it launched four private passengers into orbit on the first mission to space with an all-civilian crew.

In March, SpaceX is partnering with the Houston-based company Axiom Space to launch a retired NASA astronaut and three private customers — each of whom reportedly paid $55 million — to the International Space Station.