Virgin Galactic is hopeful it will have a successful test launch of its space vehicle next year. After that, says the company’s CEO, it will be offering flights as soon as it gets clearance.

The problem with writing articles about space is that you almost automatically reach for cliches, the final frontier and all that. But the truth is that it is the final frontier that Virgin Galactic is hoping to exploit and it could be as soon as next year.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides is here at Le Web in Paris, Europe’s largest technology conference, presumably to spread the word and perhaps take bookings for what will be, when compared to the Russian space tourism offering, the budget provider or Ryanair of space.

To go into space with the Russians will set you back many millions of dollars. When Virgin Galactic finally launch it will cost you $200,000. And when will that be? “We hope to get into space next year,” he said.

Mr. Whitesides is insistent that Virgin Galactic is not the expensive plaything of a rich, and famously outgoing, entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson. “We think this is a great business,” says Mr. Whitesides. “When you exceed over $250 million of investment, which we have done, this is a real business.”

That business, he says, is based on two things. First, space tourism. “We have sold 500 tickets for space travel at $200,000 each. If you think that the total number of people who have ever been in space is only 525 we will pass that number in the first few years of operations.”

The second, rather less clear area, is using their launcher for other projects. “We are looking at NASA and other research agencies. We think that represents a great area for growth.”

So what do you get for your $200,000? A four-day training program for starters, at their launch facility in New Mexico. The flight itself lasts two hours although, says Mr. Whiteside, you only get the “space experience” for about five minutes; long enough to earn you your space wings.

Virgin Galactic has a two-stage launch process; their space vehicle is under-slung on an aircraft that takes the vehicle to 50,000 ft. Once released the rocket engine fires it into space, defined by NASA as 50 miles above sea level, or by others as 100km. “They will be in space,” assures Mr. Whitesides.

Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 and Sir Richard promised then that commercial flights would be started within a few years. So why the delay? “Space is hard,” said Mr. Whitesides.

Not surprisingly the company has been concerned with getting safety absolutely right. And Sir Richard is putting his money where his mouth is. The very first flight will be with him and his entire family.Source: Wall St Journal.   Watch this video.. (Short ad runs first)


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