Virgin Galactic, the first and still the only space tech company to go public, disclosed results for the third quarter this week.
It reported $80 million in deposits and $120 million in potential revenue, and founder Richard Branson promised investors to be profitable by 2021.
Virgin Galactic needed 15 years since its founding to get to this point and now commercial space travel may be finally in reach “within a year,” he said.
Given how nascent the industry still is, it’s remarkable how many have signed up to fly despite remaining unknowns, risks and lack of regulations. Virgin Galactic booked reservations from 600 people in 60 countries as of September 30. In addition, the company reported “3,557 expessions of interest” by the end of the third quarter.
It was only earlier this year that Virgin Galactic’s “non-pilot flew on board a commercial spaceship to space” for the first time. That was also the first time that a “crew member floated freely without restraints in weightlessness in space onboard a commercial spaceship” and it marked the first time “three people flew to space on a commercial spaceship.”
That’s a lot of firsts for a newly minted public company, yet the long-term success of space tourism will depend on consistent consumer demand.
While the company’s mission is to “open space to everyone,” early adopters are eager to part with $250,000 for a seat aboard SpaceShipTwo, which can accommodate six passengers and two pilots.
Virgin Galactic’s competitors including Blue Origin and SpaceX are looking to bring space tourists further into space beyond Earth’s orbit.
The value of the space tourism and nanosatellite industries as a whole may reach $1 trillion by 2030, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch note to clients this week.
Peter Ward, a journalist and author of a recent book The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space, has experienced the intense fandom and dedication of space volunteers.
“I spoke to one guy who has a ticket to go on Virgin Galactic. He’s been waiting for years now,” Ward recalled. “I asked him if he’d go to Mars if he’d die on Mars. And his answer was a bit startling. He said, ‘kids I love you, but I’m going to Mars.’ ”