Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson won't make it to space in 2020

The British billionaire's space tourism company cites setbacks due to the pandemic.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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The seat and view that Virgin Galactic customers will enjoy on the spaceship VSS Unity.

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic has been progressing steadily toward launching regular commercial space flights, following a devastating setback in 2014 when a test pilot died in a crash. For many months, it seemed that 2020 would finally be the year founder Richard Branson and its first paying customers would go on a joy ride to space. Now, Virgin says it'll have to wait a little longer.

The company has successfully sent its chief astronaut instructor, Beth Moses, as a passenger on a suborbital flight, completed its astronaut lounge at its launch center in New Mexico, and just last week unveiled the interior of its passenger cabin

But on an earnings call Monday, Chief Space Officer and former CEO George Whitesides said that the coronavirus pandemic has caused setbacks, which will prevent the company from getting Branson off the ground until the first quarter of 2021 at the earliest.

Watch this: Virgin Galactic spacesuit's hidden features

"Sir Richard is in a unique position to provide the ultimate cabin and spaceflight experience evaluation as the visionary of the Virgin customer experience," Whitesides said.  

Before that can happen, Virgin Galactic will perform two more powered test flights in 2020, including one carrying experimental payloads for NASA. 

The company, which went public in October, also said it'll sell more stock to raise additional funds. 

Virgin Galactic has approximately 600 future astronauts in line to visit space. They've collectively given the company around $80 million in deposits. Depending on when the reservations were made, the cost of the trip begins at $200,000 a seat. 

Watch this: Virgin Galactic unveils its spaceship cabin where tourists will ride to orbit