Virgin Galactic, the space tourism venture of billionaire Sir Richard Branson, surged more than 20% Friday after the company said it received the license it needs to fly passengers into space, upping pressure on its rivals in the emerging space tourism sector and setting the stage for a standoff this summer as billionaires Jeff Bezos, Branson and Elon Musk all push to edge ahead.
Virgin Galactic’s stock was up around 20% on Friday morning following its announcement the Federal Aviation Administration had granted it a license to carry customers to space.
With it, Branson, who launched Galactic in 2004, can finally make good on his promises that commercial spaceflight is just around the corner, which he has been making for the better part of two decades.
Galactic is planning its first fully crewed flight this summer, which could see Branson beat Amazon’s Jeff Bezos into space.
Bezos, through his own aerospace company Blue Origin, is scheduled to be part of a crewed flight to the edge of space on July 20.
Branson’s efforts to open up commercial space travel have been turbulent, facing repeated setbacks as he repeatedly proclaimed it was just round the corner and comes on the heels of a successful test flight in May. A sizable fraction of his fortune is now derived from his stake in Galactic. The long-awaited green light comes at a crucial time in the dash to open up space to civilians, as Galactic competes with ventures from Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos, both also at advanced stages.
What To Watch For
Galactic has not announced the date for its next flight, though it is believed this will be before Bezos’ in July. Bezos, in turn, jumped in front of Musk’s SpaceX, which plans an all-civilian mission at the end of 2021 (SpaceX has already launched several NASA-trained crews to the International Space Station). All will mark milestones in the race to open up space.
600. That’s how many people have reportedly already made reservations with Virgin Galactic, which will take off from a site in New Mexico. Tickets cost $250,000 each.
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