British billionaire tycoon Sir Richard Branson has stated that his space travel company, Virgin Galactic, will be taking its first commercial passengers into space in the next 30 months.
Branson – who made his billions in the music management and retail sectors, before expanding into airlines, rail travel and mobile phones to name but a few – signed a lucrative technology license contract with Paul Allen’s Mojave Aerospace Ventures last year – during their successful back to back launch of SpaceShipOne (SS1).
The highly acclaimed Burt Rutan and his Scaled Composites team designed the ship – solely through the funding provided by former Microsoft co-founder Allen – which went on to win the $10 million Ansari X-Prize by successfully achieving two launches that broke the required altitude of 328,000 feet, twice within 14 days.
Virgin Galactic’s deal will see up to $22 million being invested in the new ships – and will be offering seats on the vehicle at around $190,000 per head – a price that will also include three days of astronaut training. Virgin will reinvest the proceeds in developing a new generation of vehicles.
“The plan for the new spaceship is complete – and work on the project will commence in the next three months, with the first commercial space flight to take off in two-and-half years,” Branson told a press conference in the Indian city of Bombay yesterday.
“We want to make space travel as affordable as possible to people from across the world.”
Branson – a self-confessed thrill seeker and adventurer – will be onboard for the debut of the World’s first commercial space flight, along with members of his family.
“I, with my parents and my son and my daughter will travel in the first space flight,” he added, although the 54 year-old’s parents have previously stated in no uncertain terms that they have no wish to travel on the innovative vehicle.
The Branson’s will experience around three minutes of weightlessness, while also viewing the curvature of the Earth against the backdrop of space. They will then watch the ship morph its profile by “feathering” its wings to reduce heat on the ship’s surfaces due to minimised friction on re-entry – as the vehicle is pulled back to earth by gravity, before morphing once again into a glider for the final trip to the landing strip.