Virgin Galactic Space-Tourist Bookings Back to Pre-Tragedy Level

  • About 25 people dropped out of program after fatal 2014 crash
  • Branson venture reports `strong progress' toward first flight

Bookings from would-be space tourists planning to fly with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Ltd. have recovered almost to the level seen before the fatal breakup of its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane in October 2014.

About 25 of 700 fee-paying clients withdrew from the program after the crash in the Mojave Desert in California caused it to be put on hold just months before the first commercial flight, Virgin Galactic Chief Executive Officer George Whitesides said Tuesday in Abu Dhabi.

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“We had a little dip right after the accident, but honestly we’re almost all the way back now,” Whitesides said at a conference organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization and United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. “It’s looking very good. There’s a global desire to experience space.”

Some of those who were refunded their deposits after the crash have since asked for their tickets back as Virgin Galactic’s work on a replacement space-launched plane advances, according to Whitesides. “They see the new vehicle and are excited about the progress that we’re making now,” he said.

SpaceShipTwo co-pilot Michael Alsbury died when the vehicle was torn apart after he prematurely unlocked a braking mechanism. The failure by Scaled Composites LLC, the craft’s designer, to protect against the mistake was a probable cause of the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board has said.

Virgin is making good progress with ground testing of the new craft, unveiled last month and named ‘Unity,’ according to Whitesides. He said the company is getting closer to the first flight, while declining to disclose the schedule.

Early flight tests will see Unity remain mated to mothership WhiteKnightTwo, before the program shifts to glide testing and eventually rock-powered trials.

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