Anne Majumdar

Interest in zooming into space is once again on the rise among the most intrepid of travellers following the latest Virgin Galactic test flight.

Earlier this month, the company confirmed that a spaceship built by its manufacturing arm, the spaceship company and operated by Virgin Galactic had taken to the skies.

The “captive carry” flight test saw VSS Unity remain mated to virgin’s whiteKnightTwo mothership VMS Eve for the entire 3 hour and 43 minute flight from takeoff to landing – a major milestone for the project.

“With this flight in the books, our team will now analyze a mountain of flight data, learning what worked well and what could be improved for our next flight test,” Virgin Galactic said.

“Only when that analysis is done, along with detailed vehicle inspections, some already-planned work, and potentially more captive carry flights, will we be ready to move into the next phase of test flight.”

So although there is no date yet in sight for the official launch, these latest efforts represent a ramping up for space tourism which had languished somewhat in the aftermath of a tragic incident in 2014 when one pilot was killed and another seriously injured during a test flight of the prototype space tourism rocket.

But fast forward two years and advances in the commercial space program are once again being made, and people are getting excited.

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In February this year, Sir Richard Branson unveiled the new Virgin Galactic SpaceshipTwo which was named by professor Stephen Hawking.

Designed to take thrillseekers into space, seats on the ride, which can carry six passengers at a time, will cost $US250,000 ($A349,550). Back in February, more than 700 people were said to have signed up for the journey – a number which will likely have risen.

“Together, we can make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamt of before now, and by doing so can bring positive change to life on Earth,” Branson said.

“Our beautiful new spaceship, VSS Unity, is the embodiment of that goal and will provide us with an unprecedented body of experience which will in turn lay the foundations for Virgin Galactic’s future.”

No surprise then that with all these new developments, interest is once again on the rise.

Accredited space travel agent Tina Killeen, general manager at Spencer Travel, told KarryOn that she had made her first sale back in 2007 with the most recent in 2013. Sales had stalled over the last couple of years as a result of setbacks to the program, but enquiries are once picking up with Killeen taking one just last week.

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“There are definitely still people enquiring, and because they’ve had more test flights in the last couple of weeks, it’s stirring up enquiries again which is great,” she reveals.

Of the four clients that have signed on the dotted line, all have different reasons for booking ranging from wanting to see the curvature of the earth, to simply having a lifelong interest in space travel. Much interest dates back to watching the first moon landing back in 1969, according to Killeen.

Does that mean that the market for space travel lies at the older end of the spectrum? No at all, Killeen says. The demographic so far has been very diverse and not just in terms of age group.

“They’re a mix of people who can afford it and others who are selling investments and saving up – it’s a complete mix of people,” she says.

“It’s a lot of money for three hours but not when it’s an experience that, up till now, was something money couldn’t even buy,” Killeen says.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

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