Published: Wed, October 10, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Virgin Galactic to be in space 'in weeks,' owner Branson says

Virgin Galactic to be in space 'in weeks,' owner Branson says

British billionaire Richard Branson says his company Virgin Galactic will be in space in "weeks, not months".

Speaking to CNBC, Mr Branson said Virgin Galactic is "more than tantalisingly close" to its first trip to space. In April, Bob Smith, the head of Jeff Bezos's Blue Origins space company, told CNBC the firm still hoped to send tourists to the edge of space by the end of the year.

'We will be in space with people not too long after that so we have got a very, very exciting couple of months ahead'.

Currently, some 700 people are on Virgin Galactic's waiting list (to the tune of US$250,000 (NZ$385,157) a ticket) for the company's first commercial flights, whenever they might be. In the most recent test in July, the space plane was released from its jet-powered carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, at 46,500 feet before the Unity's pilots lit its rocket.

Virgin Galactic aims to launch the first commercial passenger flight into space, and is in tough competition with US space company Blue Origin.

'You know, it's important he's got to find time for himself, ' the 68-year-old said.

Musk has reached dizzying heights with his numerous private space deliveries to the International Space Station at an altitude of around 1.4 million feet (408,000 metres), but is yet to fly any of his planned passenger-carrying craft.

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Virgin previously said that it had sold around 650 tickets for its fully commercial suborbital flights, which are now booked until at least 2021.

Branson's other space company, Virgin Orbit, has a contract with the Pentagon to launch "technology demonstration satellites", which it is aiming to do by 2019.

And in that time, rivals like SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin have flourished.

Virgin Galactic was founded by Branson in 2004.

The business mogul has a long history of underestimating the time it takes his firm to get test flights into the air, and the company has repeatedly missed his lofty targets.

Virgin Galactic now has about 800 passengers on its roster, all of whom have paid around $250,000 (£190,000) for a return trip to space.

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