Space tourism will be one step closer to reality if Richard Branson’s team meets its goal

All Richard Branson wants for Christmas is a trip to space. In the space tourism race, Branson hopes his Virgin Galactic will edge out competitors — Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin — by becoming the first private company to bring people to suborbital space. Branson said in an appearance on CNN Business’ Inside Access that he thinks Virgin Galactic pilots will make test space flights before the year is out.

“We have a brilliant group of astronauts who literally believe 100 per cent in the project, and give it their everything,” he said.

Branson plans to be the first passenger after the test flights are completed.

“I’m not allowed up until the (pilots) have broken it in a few times, first,” he said. “I would love to have gone on this very (first) flight, but they are incredibly brave people.”

Virgin Galactic has encountered major difficulties in getting its project off the ground, most notably a 2014 crash that resulted in the death of a pilot and the destruction of the VSS Enterprise. Branson said he considered ending the programme after the crash. He initially thought space tourism would be a reality by 2007. More than a decade later, his dream might soon become a reality.

“Safety’s all that matters if you’re putting people into space, so none of us will race to be the first,” Branson said, before vowing that “Virgin Galactic will be the first.”
“Elon’s done extraordinary things. We hope to do extraordinary things. Jeff, I’m sure, will do extraordinary things,” Branson said. “The demand for space travel, whether it’s satellites, putting people into space, is enormous. … So, exciting times ahead.”

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity will reach speeds of 3,700 kilometres per hour and heights of 50 miles above the surface, allowing passengers to experience weightlessness and see the curvature of Earth. About 600 customers have put up between $200,000 to $250,000 US to be among the first tourists in space. Should Virgin Galactic reach its goals, we could see space tourism as early as 2019. While unmanned commercial space flights have been successful, sending paying customers into space is a whole different animal.

“Space is difficult. Rocket science is rocket science,” Branson said. “I obviously would love to prove our critics wrong, and I’m reasonably confident that before Christmas, we will do so. I think once we’re in space, we’ll obviously need to do a number of other test flights before I go up, and then before we start putting the … astronauts who signed up to go into space with us.”