Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 July 2019

Branson plans to reopen bookings for space flights after successful test

The commercial flights will eventually take off from a spaceport in New Mexico.

Sir Richard Branson is planning to step up production of spaceships and take new passenger bookings as he prepares for the launch of commercial flights as soon as next year.

Speaking minutes after Virgin Galactic successfully propelled its Unity spacecraft into space, at an altitude of more than 51 miles, he said the test flight was just a taste of things to come.

Two more passenger vehicles – each capable of carrying six paying customers – are already under construction at the company’s hangar in Mojave or what he called the “chocolate factory” in a reference to Willy Wonka’s magical manufacturing plant.

“We will soon start on the fourth and the fifth spaceships. We’re going to need another White Knight to be built,” he said, referring to the mothercraft that carries the passenger vehicle high enough for it to be launched into space.

At some point, he aidd, the operation will move from Mojave Air and Space port – a former naval air base in California that serves as a hub for America’s private space industry – to a facility designed to handle passengers.

“The whole operation will move to New Mexico where we have this beautiful spaceport built and ready to accommodate us,” he said.

“So sometime next year when the testing is finished it will move there. Then I’ll do my flight.”

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More than 600 people have already paid $250,000 to put their names on a waiting list. With recent progress towards launching commercial flights, Mr Branson said he was ready to re-open bookings.

“We stopped for the last four years taking new people but quite soon we’ll start opening up to new people who would like the chance to experience what looked like one hell of an experience,” he said.

He predicted the price would go up initially, to absorb the cost of developing space travel, before dropping as the number of craft increased.

Earlier he joined hundreds of staff and observers cheer as Virgin Galactic succeeded in sending two men into space.

Virgin Galactic's development of its spaceship took far longer than expected and endured a setback when the first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot. Mr Branson originally envisaged fleets of spaceships sending passengers into space by 2007.

He said there had been tears of tragedy and tears of joy along the way as he thanked the people who made it possible.

“The whole team here - their perseverance - whether it’s the test pilots who are incredibly brave people, who are testing things that can’t be tested on the ground that you can only find out in flight, right through to the massive team that have created a spaceship that can now – once it’s finished the test programme – start to go safely into space for myself and thousands of other people like me.

“Tears of relief as well. When you are in the test flight programme of the company you can never be completely 100 per cent sure – because that’s what a test flight programme is - to test it to its limits.

“The spaceship was tested to its limits today and she performed just as we wished, and we couldn’t be happier.”

Updated: December 15, 2018 02:14 PM

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