Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, April 29, 2013
Sir Richard Branson’s plans to send paying passengers into space could move a step closer today with the latest Virgin Galactic test flight due to take place in New Mexico.
The rocket plane SpaceShipTwo, which it is hoped will carry intrepid travellers into space next year, is expected to break the sound barrier during the test, which will take off from Spaceport America, weather permitting.
Sir Richard said today’s flight would be an “historic” occasion.
“This is going to be Virgin Galactic's year,” he said in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun.
“We'll break the sound barrier on Monday, and from there, we build up through the rest of the year, finally going into space near the end of the year. I'll be on the first official flight, which we look to have in the first quarter of next year. We're doing a number of test flights into space first.”
The company claims more than 500 tickets have been sold, at £121,000 per person, for one of the first flights into space. Deposits start at around £12,000.
Ashton Kutcher, the actor, is reported to be among those to have expressed interest.
SpaceShipTwo will carry six passengers and two pilots. Those who sign up are promised a two-hour flight including six minutes of weightlessness.
SpaceShipTwo will be carried into the air attached to a twin fuselage carrier aircraft known as WhiteKnightTwo, which will carry it to an altitude of 50,000ft, at which point it will be released. Passengers will reach a maximum altitude of 360,000ft, around 10km beyond the Karman line – the boundary between Earth and Space.
Its predecessor, SpaceShipOne, completed the first manned private space flight in 2004, winning its developers, Mojave Aerospace Ventures, the Ansari X Prize.
For more information on Virgin Galactic see virgingalactic.com.