Talking to AFP on Thursday, the British billionaire Sir Richard Branson announced his plans to launch into space aboard his own spaceship in four to five months from now.
“My wish is to go up on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, that’s what we’re working on,” said head of the Virgin Group during an event to honour Virgin Galactic at the Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Along with Blue Origin (owned by Jeff Bezos), Virgin Galactic, founded by Branson in 2004, aims to soon roll out its its services to space tourists, namely – suborbital spaceflights up to 50 miles (around 80 kilometres) above the Earth’s surface.
By his own admission, Virgin Galactic costs Branson $35 million a month, and he has already invested more than a billion dollars into the venture since the early 2000s.
The missions themselves are estimated to be much shorter – lasting no more than a few minutes – and less expensive than SpaceX’s project to fly a Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to the Moon by 2023 at the earliest.
Although this is not exactly the first time Branson announces his blast-off into space to the media, given his claim that preparations are now in their final stages, it might actually happen.
Even though Branson said that before confirming the project he wants to make sure his team is 100% happy, he is, nonetheless, reasonably certain they’ll be ready for clients by the end of 2019.
To have the amazing – albeit brief – experience of flying into space and observing the curvature of our blue-green planet through the porthole, they’ll have to clamber onto a two-pilot spacecraft called SpaceShipTwo.
Once dropped by a carrier plane, the spacecraft will start its own engines to jet off into sky, hover and then descend naturally, gliding back towards its point of departure – Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
SpaceShipTwo’s next test flight is currently scheduled for 20 February.
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