Bitcoins have lift off for Virgin Galactic space travel

If you have a handful of Bitcoins and are wondering what to spend them on, rather than just ordering a pepperoni pizza or renting an apartment you can now use the virtual currency to embark on a journey to space.

Virgin Galactic, the space-flight branch of Richard Branson’s sprawling empire, has announced that it will now accept Bitcoin payments to fund trips into the black void.

Riding a wave of focused media attention, bitcoin has become increasingly popular online as an unmediated peer-to-peer digital currency based on cryptographic principals. Branson became an early investor in bitcoin himself saying that he found it “fascinating how a whole new global currency has been created.”

His excitement over the currency could just be a publicity stunt, tapping into bitcoin’s feverish global coverage. However, Branson is famous for pushing the boundaries of innovation and the digital currency is currently on the cutting edge of a new virtual payment frontier – it makes sense, then, that the enthusiastic entrepreneur’s interest has been piqued.

So whilst a normal Virgin Galactic flight will take a big scoop of your pocket change, with the average trip costing $250,000 (£154,386), users can now pay for the trip with digital money.

To make the pricing fair amid the fluctuating value of the bitcoin, Branson said on Friday that any payments will be transferred into US dollars to establish a fixed price in case the customer desires a refund nearer the time of flight.

Announcing the news, Branson gave a glowing endorsement of the bitcoin system: “The lack of transparency from Bitcoin’s founders has attracted some criticism, but its open source nature means anyone can audit the code. It is a brilliantly conceived idea to allow users to power the peer-to-peer payment network themselves, providing control and freedom for consumers.”

"Bitcoins aren’t yet formally recognised by governments as a currency but with some regulation I hope that it will become more widely accepted. A few years ago many people had doubts about whether Virgin Galactic would ever get off the ground. Now we have gone supersonic, are a long way along the testing process, and are looking forward to launching commercial space travel.”

His enthusiasm follows developments last week where a US senate committee official deemed bitcoin a legitimate financial service. Somewhere, a bitcoin miner / investor is uncorking the champagne.