Richard Branson: buy Virgin Galactic spaceflights with Bitcoins

By David Flynn, November 28 2013
Richard Branson: buy Virgin Galactic spaceflights with Bitcoins

Virgin Galactic has become the first airline – albeit a space-faring one – to let you buy a ticket with the digital 'virtual currency' known as Bitcoins.

Appearing on US cable news network CNBC overnight, Sir Richard Branson said Virgin Galactic has already taken its first Bitcoin booking from a woman in Hawaii, who apparently paid around 360 Bitcoins (equalling the current ticket price of US$250,000) to travel to the edge of space.

The 2.5 hour flight includes four minutes of weightlessness as the eight-seater shuttle reaches its apex at some some 360,000 feet above the Earth's surface.

Branson has earmarked August 2014 for Virgin Galactic's first commercial flights carrying paid passengers, and says he looks forward to more Bitcoin bookings.

"We would be delighted to welcome more of the Bitcoin community as future astronauts" Branson writes in his blog.

"Virgin Galactic is a company looking into the future, so is Bitcoin. So it makes sense we would offer Bitcoin as a way to pay for your journey to space. A lot of the people who have joined Bitcoin are tech-minded people, as are many of our current future astronauts."

The virtual currency has enjoyed its own rocket ride since its launch in 2009. Two years ago one Bitcoin was valued at under US$10 but today it trades at close to US$960, having earlier this week briefly soared above $US1000 for the first time.

Branson adds that he has "invested in some Bitcoins myself, and find it fascinating how a whole new global currency has been created."

"I think the fact that there's going to be a limited number of Bitcoins out there and it will ultimately be capped – unlike normal currencies where governments can print more currencies – gives it a sense of security" Branson told CNBC.

"There have been spikes and lows. But I think one day it will settle at a price that, I personally believe, is higher than the price today."

Beyond 'space tourism'

Each Virgin Galactic booking doesn't just secure your spot in the queue.

Travellers will also enjoy a series of special events leading up to the launch, including spending time with Branson on his private island, doing G-Force training plus a 'behind the scenes' tour of Virgin Galactic's Spaceship facility in Mojave (below).

Read: Amazing photos of Richard Branson's new Virgin Galactic Spaceport

However, the real prize for Branson is moving beyond 'space tourism' for the well-heeled, towards scheduled services which will be to this generation – or possibly the next – what the supersonic Concorde was to the 1980s and 1990s.

Branson believes that trips between London and Sydney would take a handful of hours, while a jaunt from New York to Singapore could take an hour "travelling orbitally around the world at 26,000 miles per hour", with Virgin Galactic expecting to eventually offer five commercial flights a day.

How Virgin Galactic's sub-orbital flights work

Virgin Galactic's space carrier is an aircraft in two parts, with the 'White Knight Two' transporter cradling the smaller 'SpaceShipTwo' passenger craft beneath its wings.

White Knight Two, which is smaller than a Boeing 737, lifts off from a normal runway and climbs at subsonic speeds to 50,000 feet (just over 15,000 metres).

At this point SpaceShipTwo -- half the width of the 737 and only 18 metres (60 feet) long – detaches and fires its own boosters  to soar to 110,000 metres.

At this height, with the atmosphere becoming thinner and friction from air decreasing, the passenger shuttle can hit speeds of 4,000 km/h before turning off its engines, coasting along near the rim of space and gliding down to earth.

(The White Knight Two carrier vehicle has long since headed home to pick up its next cargo.)

Sydney-London in four hours: the Kangaroo Route in 2050

As nice as 'space tourism' is, the real prize for Branson will be a return to the superfast era of the Concorde – only this time even quicker, with scheduled sub-orbital shuttles to whisk you from Sydney to London in four hours.

As previously reported by Australian Business Traveller, Brett Godfrey – former founding CEO of Virgin Blue, long-time Branson buddy and holder of a ticket into space – believes that sub-orbital services will be "the next level" beyond supersonic, with substantial appeal to business travellers.

"In another 10 or 15 years it will be $20,000 – it will be no more than a first-class ticket somewhere" Godfrey said, "and then eventually they will be able to get a slightly bigger rocket with a bit more fuel and they'll be able to get it so it goes trans-continental and then around the world."

"It may not be in my lifetime that it goes commercial but I think it probably will."

With London and Sydney being just over 17,000 km apart, SpaceShipTwo travelling at 4,000 km/h and the earth far below spinning at 1,700 km/h, that's almost exactly three hours from Sydney Harbour to the Thames.

Add half an hour for liftoff and half an hour to glide down, and you turn the long-haul Kangaroo Route into a breezy four hour hop – less time than it currently takes from Sydney to Perth.

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

07 Feb 2013

Total posts 14

What's the model Sir Richard's holding? doesn't look like Space Ship Two... model of proposed suborbital commercial craft?

Cathay Pacific - Asia Miles

25 Apr 2013

Total posts 543

If the maiden flight crashes, VG is done for once and for all.

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