Branson says Virgin Galactic will Become First Company to Take Tourists into Space

By | May 11, 2017 08:30 AM EDT

SpaceShipTwo from Virgin Galactic. (Photo : Virgin Galactic)

After a delay of nine years, Virgin Galactic will finally fly its first paying passenger space tourists to the edge of space aboard its sleek SpaceShipTwo sub-orbital spacecraft by the last quarter of 2018.

The confirmation of the company's first spaceflight in April by Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides was recently reaffirmed by Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson. Sir Richard said he very much looks forward to beginning the first commercial space flights next year.

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Virgin Galactic's meeting this deadline will make the spaceflight company founded in 2004 the first to achieve commercial spaceflight ahead of competitors SpaceX and Blue Origin.

"I think that by the end of this century I hope that hundreds of thousands of people will have had the chance of becoming astronauts," said Sir Richard during a recent event at the company's Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

Virgin Galactic recently tested its re-entry system from its Mojave Air and Space Port.

SpaceShipTwo, which will be taken aloft by a carrier airplane known as White Knight Two, will accommodate six passengers (plus two pilots).

It will be jettisoned by White Knight Two; zoom upwards on its own power and take its passengers to a distance of 100 kilometers above the Earth, which is the legal definition of outer space.

Passengers will experience weightlessness and will have the privilege of seeing the Earth from the vantage point of astronauts.

Some 500 people have signed-up for the ride on SpaceShipTwo. A ticket on SpaceShipTwo sells for $250,000.

Sir Richard initially hoped to see a maiden flight by the end of 2009, but this date was delayed by a number of reasons, the most devastating of which was the crash in October 2014 of VSS Enterprise that killed the plane's co-pilot.

Virgin Galactic is developing commercial spacecraft and aims to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists and suborbital launches for space science missions. It also plans to provide orbital human spaceflights.

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