Richard Branson

Branson predicts lift-off into space ‘within weeks’

In the media Technology

The much-delayed Virgin Galactic space craft will lift off in weeks, its billionaire owner Richard Branson has predicted.

He told CNBC that he hoped the first paying passengers would be on board within months if all went well.

Branson’s ambitious project is part of a private space race between Virgin Galactic, Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Tesla chief Elon Musk’s Space X.

All three plan to offer space flights to the public, but with tickets expected to cost around £190,000 they will only be for a privileged view.

Branson set out on his space odyssey in 2004 when he formed Virgin Galactic with the aim of suborbital flights by 2009.

But the project has been dogged by delays and the fatal crash involving its first space craft that killed pilot Michael Alsbury.

The new Virgin SpaceShipTwo craft, VSS Unity, has been going through testing in California and has briefly reached 171,000 feet, more than four times higher than a passenger plane.

It will need to go twice as high again to reach space and when it does, Branson plans to be on one of the early flights.

He said he was confident that there would be demand for tickets, telling CNBC: “If I have a room full of 10 people, eight out of 10 would love to go to space.”

Branson added that the market for commercial space travel is “gigantic” and predicted that ticket prices would eventually fall to $50,000.

Blue Origins, owned by Jeff Bezos, says it aims to take tourists into space by the end of the year.

Elon Musk has announced that he wants to put a passenger in orbit around the moon within five years.

Branson’s SpaceShipTwo would accommodate six passengers, who would be carried to the edge of space around 50 miles above earth.

They would briefly experience weightlessness and be able to see the earth’s curvature before falling back to earth.

Flights will lift off from a spaceport in New Mexico, but in years to come it could be the UK – the Government has already announced plans to build a satellite launch station in Scotland.

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