First Commercial Spaceflight by Virgin Galactic Planned for This Year

Richard Branson playing catch-up to Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in billionaire space race.

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic is going public. (Land Rover MENA)
Nick Dimbleby

Richard Branson’s commercial space venture Virgin Galactic is moving out of its experimental flight base in California and permanently relocating to a spaceport in southern New Mexico, from which the company plans on launching its first spaceflight later in 2019.

The relocation of many of Virgin Galactic’s 100 employees to Spaceport America, as the company calls its permanent launch site, is among the final steps in the English billionaire’s 15-year-long entrepreneurial journey into space. Branson said he plans on being among his company’s first passengers.

He’ll have plenty of followers. At present, Virgin Galactic says it already has roughly 700 commercial passengers booked, with each ticket for the 90-minute, sub-orbital flight going for a cool $250,000.

Virgin Galactic spaceflights will take off from the company’s New Mexico spaceport with SpaceShipTwo attached to a larger, carrier aircraft, which will climb to an altitude of 45,000 feet. The spacecraft will then be released and fire its own rockets to climb more than 50 miles above the Earth. During the flight, customers can expect about 10 minutes of zero gravity weightlessness before descent. The plane-like SpaceShipTwo will then maneuver back though the atmosphere and land at its origin.

The company said it plans a few more test flights from New Mexico before it begins full commercial flights sometime later this year. Billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture also said it will begin spaceflights in 2019. But both Branson and Bezos trail far behind Elon Musk in the billionaire space race. Musk’s SpaceX venture has already made numerous high-orbit spaceflights carrying large commercial payloads and it could launch the first, private-company manned spaceflight as early as this summer.

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