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Virgin Galactic delays commercial launch of space tourism service

Virgin Galactic has delayed the commercial launch of its suborbital space tourism service due to “escalating supply chain and labor constraints.”

The company said that rather than launching the service toward the end of this year as it had planned, it now expects to put the first paying passengers aboard its rocket-powered spaceplane in the first quarter of 2023.

In a recently released statement, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said: “We are executing on our plans to scale the business by developing our future fleet, investing in digital manufacturing technologies, and building out our commercial strategy to deliver a consumer experience like no other.”

Colglazier added: “Against a backdrop of escalating supply chain and labor constraints, our teams are containing the majority of these issues to minimize impact on schedules. We look forward to returning to space in the fourth quarter and launching commercial service in the first quarter of next year.”

Speaking later about the supply chain issues, the CEO said that required high-performance metallics were seeing extended delivery times. As for hiring, the company is taking on more engineers, but they’re spreading their time across multiple projects that include its next-generation spaceplane, Imagine.

The sub-orbital space trip

Wealthy customers are required to hand over $450,000 for a 90-minute experience that will take them to the edge of space and back.

A video (below) released by Virgin Galactic earlier this year shows prospective customers exactly what they can expect for their money.

Virgin Galactic Spaceflight System

As the footage shows, the experience begins with the VSS Unity spaceplane being carried skyward by a larger carrier aircraft. When it reaches an altitude of 50,000 feet, the carrier aircraft releases Unity, whereupon it fires up its rocket engine to power it toward the Kármán line, the point 62 miles above Earth that’s widely regarded as where space begins.

The passengers can then leave their seats to experience several minutes of weightlessness while taking in the stunning views of Earth and beyond. Unity will then glide back to Earth for a runway landing.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson last year participated in the first fully crewed test flight of the system, which started and finished at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is aiming to launch a similar space tourism service with its New Shepard rocket. Bezos flew on Blue Origin’s first crewed test flight last year, and the company has since performed three further crewed flights as it moves toward the official launch of a commercial service, though the company has yet to announce a date for when it will get underway.

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