Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson announced on CNBC's "Squawk Box" Friday that his commercial space flight venture will accept bitcoin as payment. He called it "a new exciting currency."
Virgin Galactic accepted its first purchase with bitcoin from a flight attendant in Hawaii. Branson — an early bitcoin investor himself —said the woman made "quite lot of money getting into bitcoin early on."
He said she paid in bitcoin, which was transferred into actual dollars "so there's a fixed price ... [and] we can actually pay her money back, if she changes her mind about going to space in a few months."
If Virgin Galactic didn't have a refund policy, it might be willing to take the risk on a pure bitcoin transaction, he said. The cost in U.S. dollars to book a space flight is $250,000.
Branson did the interview from his private island in the Caribbean, Necker Island, where the rebuilding project of his luxury home is now complete. The previous one burned down two years ago. "It's rebuilt. It's beautiful," he said. "We've actually got 30 astronauts who signed up to go to space here at the moment."
Before the CNBC interview, Branson tweeted:
Many bitcoin users are the type of people who will buy tickets for space travel, Branson told CNBC via a Skype video connection with a cellphone for audio pressed to his ear. "Virgin Galactic is a bold entrepreneurial technology. It's driving a revolution. And bitcoin is doing just the same when it comes to inventing a new currency."
"I think the fact that there's going to be a limited number of bitcoins out there and it will ultimately be capped— unlike normal currencies where governments can print more currencies — gives it a sense of security," he said, but acknowledged the risk. "There have been spikes and lows. But I think one day it will settle at a price that, I personally believe, is higher than the price today."
For bitcoin's latest price, (click here.)
The future of conventional flights
With the Federal Communications Commission thinking about lifting its longtime prohibition on making cellphone calls and texting during flights, Branson said: "I think that what's likely to happen is you'll have 'talking cabins' like you used to have 'smoking only cabins' where people can talk, and you'll have 'quiet cabins' where people can sleep and not talk."
But he said that type of seating structure — if implemented on Virgin Airlines — would not cost passengers any more money. "On the Virgin, you pay the same good price on every seat."
Branson also sees Virgin Galatic eventually competing against long-haul international airline routes. He said that a flight from New York to Singapore could take an hour "travelling orbitally around the world at 26,000 miles per hour." He hopes to see that in his lifetime, but said it will "definitely happen in my children's lifetime."
— By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC.
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First published November 22 2013, 1:09 PM