Sir Richard Branson has forecast his space tourism company will be ready to take members of the public into space by the end of the year, following another successful test flight.
In its fifth supersonic rocket powered test flight, Virgin Galactic reached space for the second time over the weekend in the skies above Mojave in California.
Spaceship VSS Unity reached its highest speed and altitude to date and, for the first time, carried a third crew member (Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor) on board along with research payloads from the NASA Flight Opportunities program.
“Welcome to space, Scotland”. Our Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay, is the 569th human in space and the first Scottish born astronaut. This was his journey to space. ? pic.twitter.com/K058YtA27y
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) February 23, 2019
Commenting on the achievement, Branson said: “Flying the same vehicle safely to space and back twice in a little over two months, while at the same time expanding the flight envelope, is testament to the unique capability we have built up within the Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company organisations.
“I am immensely proud of everyone involved. Having Beth fly in the cabin today, starting to ensure that our customer journey is as flawless as the spaceship itself, brings a huge sense of anticipation and excitement to all of us here who are looking forward to experiencing space for ourselves. The next few months promise to be the most thrilling yet.”
Branson told the ABC’s 7.30 that he expects Virgin Galactic to be taking members of the public to space by the end of the year, while he hopes to experience it in July.
However, a plane ticket of this kind will set passengers back $349,000 each. Unsurprisingly, a swathe of celebrities have already booked their spot on a Virgin Galactic flight.
Among them are Katy Perry, Tom Hanks, Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, according to Entrepreneur.
Virgin Galactic’s space travel offering has been 14 years in the making, and the company was originally set to make it a reality in 2007.
The project has not been without its setbacks, either, with pilot error causing a fatal crash five years ago.
SpaceX (backed by Tesla’s Elon Musk) and Blue Origin (backed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos) are among the companies challenging Virgin Galactic for space tourism bragging rights.