Virgin Galactic Prepares to Launch SpaceShipTwo

Richard Branson has announced that Virgin is soon set to launch the latest version of its SpaceShipTwo, the result of 700 engineers working “day and night,” Branson told UK TV show Good Morning Britain (via Wired).

The last iteration of SpaceShipTwo fell victim to an unfortunate explosion 18 months ago, which killed its pilot. The accident, which occurred in October 2014 at 45,000ft above the Mojave Desert, California, took the life of test pilot Mike Alsbury and seriously injured co-pilot Peter Siebold. “We’re nearly back on track and hopefully it’ll be seen as an historic day in the years to come,” Branson said.

SpaceShipTwo marks a renewed attempt by Virgin Galactic to conduct commercial flights into space. A seat on the orbital spacecraft is estimated to cost around $250,000.

“It’s not that dissimilar to when airline travel started in the 1920s. Initially, people were paying the equivalent of the kind of prices people are paying on Virgin Galactic. Over the years the prices come down dramatically,” Branson told ABC News.

Virgin Galactic has not yet revealed when it intends to make its first commercial spaceflight, though Branson references a decade-long strategy. “I’m not being drawn on specific dates, I’ve made that mistake before,” Branson added during Good Morning Britain. “Today is the unveiling, the test program then starts over the next 12 months and we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully we’re near the end of a ten-year program to get us this far.”

New Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo set for February 2016 Reveal

Eager to take a trip to space within your lifetime? So long as you’ve got the money for it, the Virgin Galactic team are still working hard to bring commercial space flight to the (well-paying) masses and after the tragic accident in 2014 which killed one pilot and hospitalised another, the team appear to be making progress working on the latest version of SpaceShipTwo; their revolutionary new space plane.

“I think we are in a much better place than we might have expected in the period immediately after the accident, and that’s because our team came together, our customers stuck with us, and honestly we believe that the vehicle itself is sound.” Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides said in an interview.

The new plane is set to be revealed in February 2016, with test flights set to begin shortly afterwards. This is interesting, given that Branson has been criticised in the past for being too aggressive with the planning of Virgin Galactic, perhaps even rushing things. However, with enough money and a big enough team, the gamble is starting to pay off and with people 700 already having tickets booked for many of the first flights, it’s going to be interesting to see just how long it is before the first paying customers take off.

There’s clearly still a lot of work to do, and prices are obviously going to be expensive for the flights, but would you take a trip with Virgin Galactic if you could? Let us know in the comments section below.