Sat, Feb 09, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Branson plans to fly to space by July

AFP, WASHINGTON

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson speaks during a ceremony at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

British billionaire Richard Branson on Thursday said that he plans to travel to space within the next four or five months aboard his own Virgin Galactic spaceship.

“My wish is to go up on the 50th anniversary of the [first] moon landing, that’s what we’re working on,” the head of the Virgin group said on the sidelines of an event to honor Virgin Galactic at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

NASA’s Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon July 20, 1969. Virgin Galactic is one of two companies, along with Blue Origin, planning to send passengers into space — although just barely, and just for a few minutes.

The companies want to send hundreds or thousands of people on these short “suborbital” flights, meaning they would not get high enough to orbit the earth.

These missions would be shorter and more affordable than Space Exploration Technologies Corps’ planned project to send a Japanese billionaire to the moon by 2023 at the earliest.

A Virgin Galactic vehicle flew 80km above the earth, which the US considers the edge of space, for the first time in December last year.

Virgin Galactic’s spaceship, called SpaceShipTwo, is commanded by two pilots.

To take off, it is dropped by a carrier airplane like a bomb, then starts its own engine to jet off straight into the sky, eventually climbing high enough to see the curvature of the Earth.

The craft hovers and descends naturally, gliding back toward its original departure point, Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It is able to carry six passengers along with its two pilots.

Branson has previously announced dates for this first trip into space, although they have always come and gone without the voyage happening, but this time the businessman claims preparations are in their final stages.

“By July we should have done enough testing,” he said.

However, he does not want to make any promises he cannot keep.

“I need to wait for our team to say they’re 100 percent happy. I don’t want to push them,” he said, adding that he thinks they could be ready for clients by the end of the year.

SpaceShipTwo’s next test flight is planned for Feb. 20, depending on weather conditions, Branson said.

Virgin Galactic costs him US$35 million a month, he added.

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