Branson says Virgin Galactic to launch space flight 'within weeks'

Branson says Virgin Galactic to launch space flight 'within weeks'

Branson says Virgin Galactic to launch space flight 'within weeks'

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

Branson's estimation puts the Virgin Galactic project not far behind its initial deadline. The entire flight should take around 2.5 hours, though only a few minutes will actually be spent in suborbital space.

Branson's ambitions were dealt a massive blow four years ago when the VSS Enterprise spaceflight test vehicle broke up in mid air and crashed in a Californian desert killing the co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injuring the pilot Peter Siebold.

At full tilt, VSS Unity - the latest instantiation of SpaceShipTwo - should reach speeds in excess of 4000km/hr, or mach 3.2.

Virgin Galactic will get people into space using slightly different means than the likes of NASA and SpaceX. Branson told the New Yorker earlier this year, but he says: "If you are an optimist and you talk ahead of yourself, then everybody around you has got to catch up and try to get there". He told CNBC that the company will be flying in space "within weeks".

When the plane reaches space, the vessel will detach and propel itself higher into space before both return to Earth - albeit at different times. "And it is up to us to produce as many spaceships as we can to cater to that demand".

Virgin, meanwhile, offers tickets for $250,000 a pop (but hopes that amount will drop to around $40,000 or $50,000 over the next decade).

According to the businessman, "The market for people who would love to become astronauts and go to space is very big". Despite the $US250,000 ($350,834) price tag, however, some 800 people have bought Virgin Galactic tickets since they went on sale almost 15 years ago.

He said the length of Virgin Galactic's initial flights will be kept relatively short in order to keep prices at a "reasonable level".

Then there is Tesla founder Elon Musk's Space Explorations Technologies - better known as SpaceX - which has been reported to be planning to launch a flight to circle the moon in 2023.

He shouldn't be getting very little sleep, ' Branson said.

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