This might sound like an April fool’s joke, but we kid you not. For some time now, American spaceflight company within the Virgin Group Virgin Galactic has been making great strides to launch its space tourism venture. And its latest move – which comes in the form of its newly unveiled SpaceShip III aircraft, VSS Imagine – brings it that one step closer to operating space trips for customers next year; the company says that is has plans to fly 400 flights per year, per ‘spaceport’.
A press release from Virgin Galactic explains that VSS Imagine is due to commence ground testing, with ‘glide flights’ planned for this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico. VSS Imagine’s next test flight is planned for May 2021.
Space is not just for astronauts anymore
The press release continues: “The breakthrough livery design, finished entirely with a mirror-like material, reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing colour and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space. Along with providing thermal protection, this dynamic material is naturally appealing to the human eye, reflecting our inherent human fascination with space and the transformative experience of spaceflight.
“Leveraging a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. This third generation of spaceship will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.”
Virgin Galactic has also announced that it is due to resume manufacturing progress on VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic Fleet.
Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin, commented: “Virgin Galactic spaceships are built specifically to deliver a new, transforming perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of space for themselves. As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships. All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea. Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet.”
At last, the launch of space travel insurance products?
Back in 2008, ITIJ explored how new space tourism ventures (like Virgin Galactic) would impact the travel insurance sphere: over a decade ago, we found that the extreme physical and mental demands of space travel (not to mention the level of risk involved) made creating travel insurance products for such trips out of the question for most insurers.
But, in late 2011, Allianz Global Assistance announced that it was partnering with the International Space Transport Association (ISTA) to curate coverage for travellers before, during and after their space flight in ‘anticipation of the inevitable growth in space tourism and commercial space flight’. Another press release further cementing the international insurer’s plans was released five months later – but nine years on and not another peep.
The race for space travel insurance is on
Back in July 2020, an article published by US news agency The Associated Press highlighted that space underwriters are working with the private space companies and NASA/FAA to create the insurance product that appropriately addresses the risks facing the private sector when it comes to human flight.
ITIJ muses that following Virgin Galactic’s pivotal announcement, we could be on the verge of hearing some corresponding announcements from travel insurers – and Allianz could well be among the first of them.
We have reached out to Virgin Galactic for comment on any planned travel insurance partnerships they might be curating for the upcoming public launch but, as some have noted, with the price of a ticket costing some US$250,000 (with the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio and Justin Bieber rumoured to be among those that have signed up for a seat), it may be some time yet before your average Joe is going to be propelling themselves beyond earth’s atmosphere.