February 16, 2019

Branson: Virgin Galactic To Put People In Space in 'Weeks, Not Months'

11 October 2018, 07:15 | Dale Webster

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson speaks at a news conference on March 30 in Las Vegas

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson speaks at a news conference on March 30 in Las Vegas

Branson's company had its logo on the tail of a 2004 manned test flight that made it into space, but that was due to a licensing deal with Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic did not itself develop that craft, known as SpaceShipOne.

"I'm sure there are many people on the Virgin Group board who may question my level of sanity, but I firmly believe that yes, space travel and space tourism can be truly sustainable", he told The Business Times in an exclusive interview.

"Shortly thereafter, we'll be in space with people", added Branson.

Virgin Galactic is a few steps behind its main competitor SpaceX, which last month announced it will be sending its first private citizen around the moon in 2023 - Japanese online fashion businessman Yusaku Maezawa.

Branson said "ultimately" he would like to see the price fall to around £30,000 ($40,000) or £38,000 ($50,000) over the next ten years.

The 67-year-old multi-millionaire was initially expected to take part in a space flight before April this year.

To prepare for his maiden voyage, Branson, 67, said, he's been training rigorously: cycling, playing tennis and spending time in a centrifuge to acquaint his body with the gravitational forces of space.

Tourists will spend several minutes floating in zero gravity, aboard a spaceship that approaches or passes through the Karman line, the boundary of Earth's atmosphere and space, some 62 miles (100 kilometers) high.

"I'd say at least two out of every three people I talk to say they would love to go to space one day".

Branson's estimation puts the Virgin Galactic project not far behind its initial deadline. "It is up to us to produce as many spaceships as we can to cater with that demand". Since then, the company has already enlisted around 800 passengers who paid $250,000 Dollars each for a return ticket on the Virgin Galactic. The company expects its New Shepard suborbital vehicle to carry the first space tourists into orbit in 2019.

Branson's comments, it needs to be said, should be taken with a grain of salt.

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, said that it aims to begin test flights by the end of 2018.

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