Virgin Galactic is weeks away from reaching space, CEO says

Richard Branson said Monday his Virgin Galactic will begin space test flights in a matter of weeks. File

"I'm sure there are many people on the Virgin Group board who may question my level of sanity, but I firmly believe that yes, space travel and space tourism can be truly sustainable", he told The Business Times in an exclusive interview.

Speaking to CNBC in Singapore, the billionaire Virgin founder said the company was "more than tantalizingly close" to launching its first mission to space, and that he himself hoped to briefly leave Earth within "months not years".

Branson's company had its logo on the tail of a 2004 manned test flight that made it into space, but that was due to a licensing deal with Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic did not itself develop that craft, known as SpaceShipOne.

Virgin Galactic has conducted three manned test flights in the Earth's atmosphere this year, after a hiatus to recover from a fatal accident in 2014. The original expected launch date was April 2018. His training includes extensive tennis and cycling.

Virgin previously said that it had sold around 650 tickets for its fully commercial suborbital flights, which are now booked until at least 2021. The next phase of testing will see the rockets test their endurance and range, hopefully soon reaching the limits of space.

CEO George Whitesides told the Albuquerque Journal this August that while the company no longer gives a timeline for when commercial operations might begin, he said its long-anticipated move to New Mexico was drawing near.

Pixel Slate trades headphone jack for a second USB-C
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Sir Richard's space firm Virgin Galactic is now locked in a battle with Musk's rocket company SpaceX to be the first to send paying tourists into space.

Branson even dished out some health advice for fellow billionaire Elon Musk, who runs SpaceX and has been in a firestorm of controversy over the last six months.

"We should be in space within weeks, not months". "If I have a room full of 10 people, eight out of 10 would love to go to space if they could afford it", Branson said to CNBC. Meanwhile Elon Musk of SpaceX has announced plans to send a passenger around the moon in 2023.

"I think the market for people who would love to become astronauts and go to space is enormous".

Sir Richard also revealed this week that his space venture is "weeks away" from sending one of its rockets into space for the first time.

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