Virgin Galactic to reach space in 'weeks not months'

Richard Branson says Virgin Galactic will be in space 'within weeks, not months’

British entrepreneur Richard Branson said he expects his Virgin Galactic company to conduct its first space flight "within weeks, not months" in comments broadcast Tuesday.

Virgin Galactic's disaster-struck space tourism programme is apparently nearing final launch readiness, with Branson telling United States news site CNBC that: "We should be in space within weeks, not months. We're talking about months away, not years away - so it's close".

"We will be in space with people not too long after that", he added. And that'll be a legitimate offsettable business expense for professional Instagrammers, so there ought to be loads of them up flying about up there, pouting in front of small, black windows.

Virgin Galactic is "neck and neck" with Blue Origin, run by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, to provide the first commercial spaceflight, Branson said in May. The upper atmosphere is generally regarded to give way to space at an altitude of 62 miles (100km), almost twice the altitude achieved in the July test flight. In September, Musk announced his SpaceX company had sold its first ticket for a trip around the moon. Bank of America Merrill Lynch says the sector will be worth $2.7 trillion over the next 30 years.

While Sir Richard says that he will have humans in space next year, Mr Musk has set a target of 2030 to get people to Mars, with the first people there being tasked with beginning to build a new civilisation. "All that matters in the end is that everybody is safe and well".

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He has undergone astronaut, fitness and centrifuge training over recent months and now believes he will be ready for his maiden space voyage in a matter of months.

Branson's quest for space travel started in 2004, when he won the rights to spacecraft technology of Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft who funded a venture that flew a vehicle past the 100-kilometre edge of space three times. But while the company has been signing up space tourists - some 800 customers have paid $250,000 for a return ticket on Virgin Galactic since the company's inception - it is yet to travel to space.

Branson's other space company, Virgin Orbit, has a contract with the Pentagon to launch "technology demonstration satellites", which it is aiming to do by 2019.

Branson hopes to have a space craft that can carry six passengers and two pilots above Earth.

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