Virgin Galactic, XCOR Suborbital Ticket Sales Surpass 850

SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic and XCOR have combined to sell 855 tickets for suborbital space rides, according to media reports today.

In an appearance before the Aero Club of Washington, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said his company has sold 625 reservations worth $125 million in deposits. Meanwhile, Space Expedition Corporation (SXC) has reservations for about 230 flights of XCOR’s Lynx suborbital space plane.

Challenges remain for both companies.

Interestingly, the customer base has shifted to become 60% foreign, according to Whitesides. Previously half were Americans. But that shift underscores one the company’s goals, as well as a key reason for Whitesides to speak to a Washington audience: Virgin and the rest of the nascent commercial space industry would like human-rated spacecraft to be kept off the strict U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) as part of the Obama administration’s reform of export controls.

In a move long sought by industry, the administration in May, with Congress’s recent approval, acted to shift commercial satellites from the State Department’s U.S. Munitions List (USML) to the Commerce Department’s less restrictive Commerce Control List for export licenses. At the same time, officials proposed adding crewed space vehicles to the USML under ITAR control.

Virgin Galactic wants to fly SpaceShipTwo from Abu Dhabi and Kiruna, Sweden in addition to its home base at Spaceport America in New Mexico. SXC will fly the Lynx from the Caribbean island of Curacao.

  • mzungu

    A good question to ask is, how many of these are actual legal binding sales? or is it just a memo-of-understanding publicity stunt.

  • Douglas Messier

    The arrangements vary. Typically, passengers put down deposits of some percentage of the ticket price. In some cases, they put down the entire amount. In the case of Virgin Galactic, the amount you put down and when you put it down determine when you will fly.

  • mzungu

    Sure, I was interested in knowing how much of that potential $125M Virgin got is real(by that I mean what would the US gov would consider actual taxable income). I haven’t book a seat, so is there like a minimum that you deposit? Can anyone book one for $1 to be on the list? and since all deposit is refundable it makes me wonder what the commitment level really is.

    XCOR, on the other hand is so far behind and on the wrong track, it is a different story.

  • Douglas Messier

    You have to put down 10 percent for a ticket on Virgin. Used to be $20,000, now up to $25,000 since after the powered flight in April. I believe the $125 million is the figure for all deposits, which are refundable.

    Having a ticket on Virgin Galactic has a cache and provides benefits without even flying. Customers have been able to leverage that into publicity, contacts, etc. So, if you put down $20,000 eight years ago, you’ve gotten your money’s worth if you played it right.

    I could envision a situation in which a lot of people would demand their deposits back if Virgin continues to have delays with its engine or experiences an accident in flight. If there is a viable alternative by that point, then you could see a shift over to another provider.

    I believe you are wrong about XCOR. It’s neither very far behind nor on the wrong track. But, I think it’s best for them to explain why you’re wrong. Hopefully, someone will respond.

  • mzungu

    So, Virgin got $12M in the banks to play with. That’s better than I thought. I would not be banking on the XCOR so much.

    These are the same guys that worked the Rotary Rocket, I knew one engineer that did some consulting for Rotary, and one banker/invester that looked over their biz plans/proposal… One just back away shaking his head, and one just make his money and gave the best advise he can to them, and collected his checks b4 they went belly up.

  • Douglas Messier

    It’s hard to say, exactly. Some people have paid the full amount, others have paid 50 percent and others 10 percent. Probably more than $12 million. Without a breakdown, it’s hard to say.

    If working in a failed start-up is a disqualification and meant the next company would go under, then many people in Silicon Valley would be unemployable. That’s clearly not the case.

    But, it’s more appropriate for someone from XCOR to address those matters further.

  • mzungu

    Well, that same guy in XCOR was saying they’ll have a test flight in 6 month back in 2009, remember that?

    To me Jeff is no different than those guys here in SV that were living it big by swindling gullible investors back in Tech boom days.

    I remember the tech boom here in the Silicon Valley well, I believe that there were a lot of stock option that turn to $0 back then. Not saying u should not try stuff, just saying some of these company need to have one foot on the ground, before they climb.

    Elon Musk, did a pretty good job on that by just rebuilding something that had been tried and trued, then moving on to other things.

    Jeff Greason, on the other hand, wanted a SSTO, a spinning engine, a active cooling TPS, and a helicopter landing sys all in one go. All untested, untried system that by itself requires years of development. That simply speaks of lack of good rational thinking. Sure, a leader need to inspire, but at the same time you need to think rationally on what you are doing.

  • Innovation Summit

    Learn more about this topic from George Whitesides himself at Innovation Summit Pasadena on October 10, 2013. Email me for more information!