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Why Chinese Citizens Can’t Buy Tickets for SpaceShipTwo

Image: SpaceShipTwo
SpaceShipTwo fires its rocket engine during a Jan. 10 test flight. Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic will sell you a ticket to space for $250,000 — unless you're a Chinese national. Would-be spacefliers with Chinese passports are being turned away due to U.S. export controls.

Almost 700 passengers already have made reservations for flights on the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, which is undergoing flight testsand is expected to begin suborbital space trips as early as this year.

The first reports of Chinese turndowns came from Hong Kong. The South China Morning Post quoted Winnie Chan, a representative of Miramar Travel, as saying buyers with Chinese passports have been rejected, although Chinese with a U.S. green card or a Hong Kong passport have had their applications accepted.

Virgin Galactic spokeswoman Christine Choi emailed a statement to NBC News on Friday confirming that the ban is required under the terms of the federal government's export control regime — known as International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR. The regulations are aimed at heading off the unauthorized transfer of weapons technology to China as well as other countries such as Cuba, Iran and North Korea.

Watch Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Flight 1:15

"Virgin Galactic’s space system is controlled under the ITAR by the U.S. government. The U.S. government has determined that the spaceflight customer experience falls under EAR99, a distinct category under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Department. Virgin Galactic adheres to both the spirit and the letter of U.S. export controls and has for now chosen not to accept deposits from countries subject to U.S. export and other regulatory restrictions," the statement read.

That may not be the final word.

"The U.S. government is giving focused attention to these and related issues, and as those considerations continue, Virgin Galactic may adapt its policies in consultation with appropriate regulators, legislators and other stakeholders," the company said.

NBCUniversal has established a multi-platform partnership with Virgin Galactic to track the development of SpaceShipTwo and televise its inaugural commercial spaceflight. Virgin Galactic is owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS.