(Corrects total deposits collected in eighth paragraph of story published Feb. 10, adds latest ticket price in second.)
U.K. billionaire Richard Branson said his Virgin Galactic venture is on track to carry its first fare-paying passenger to the edge of space this year, and that he plans to take his family on a flight some time in 2014.
Virgin Galactic, which completed the third rocket-powered supersonic flight of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle from Mojave Air and Space Port in California last month, is on course to meet its operational targets, Branson said today in Dubai.
“It will be the start of a whole new space era,” the entrepreneur said at the 2014 United Arab Emirates Government Summit, predicting that his plan to give paying guests a taste of zero gravity for $250,000 will be profitable in three years.
Writing in his book “Branson Behind the Mask,” published on Feb. 6, author Tom Bower says a combination of safety regulations, performance issues and the physical challenges of a rocket launch means Virgin Galactic is unlikely ever to attain its goal of carrying passengers into sub-orbital flight.
“There are some people who seem to want things to fail and I think he falls into that category,” Branson said later at a U.K. trade and investment event in Dubai. “The best way of dealing with people like that is to prove them wrong and we will prove them wrong in the next few months.”
Australia in Two Hours
Branson said Virgin Galactic’s ultimate ambition remains trips between cities at near-orbital speeds, slashing even the longest journey times. Such point-to-point travel is probably 12 years away, with flights between the most distant points, such as London-Australia, offering the biggest gains.
“We built Virgin Galactic’s spaceships shaped like aeroplanes, and we want to make them bigger and bigger and faster in years to come,” he said. “If we can fly to Australia in a couple of hours that would give use a massive advantage.”
Branson said that Virgin Galactic, which holds more than $80 million in deposits from would-be passengers, should get a commercial license and certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in “the next handful of months.”
In the most recent flight the reusable SS2 craft reached a speed of Mach 1.4 and an altitude of 71,000 feet -- the highest to date -- following its launch from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft at 46,000 feet. The mission also tested heat-resistant coatings and a control system for maneuvering in space.
Branson said of a 2007 explosion in which three people working for Virgin partner Scaled Composites were killed at the Mojave test site that “even NASA” has incidents with programs. Scaled is now a unit of Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC)
Virgin Galactic is backed by the Abu Dhabi government’s Aabar Investments wealth fund with a 37.8 percent stake.
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