Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic has promised Stephen Hawking, Justin Bieber, Leonardo DiCaprio along with Ashton Kutcher a ride to space.
nevertheless a 2014 test flight of the company’s space plane ended in tragedy along with derailed Branson’s ambitions for commercial space travel. Years have come along with gone without any indicators of when the first commercial launch could feasibly take place.
On Wednesday, however, Virgin Galactic confirmed which a major milestone on the company’s road to recovery is actually around the corner.
The first powered test flights of its spaceship since the 2014 accident are on track to take place “later This particular fall,” the company’s Vice President of Communications Christine Choi told sy88pgw on Wednesday.
If all goes according to plan, the first paying customers could be on board a Virgin Galactic flight by the end of 2018.
Related: Branson! Musk! Bezos! The billionaire space race throwdown
Like fellow billionaires Elon Musk along with Jeff Bezos, Branson has long been a fan of spaceflight. He was inspired by the Ansari XPrize competition which was the catalyst for the very first privately funded manned trip to space, flown in a reusable spacecraft called SpaceShipOne.
Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, with the goal of selling tickets — which cost $250,000 each — aboard a space plane which travels to the border of outer space to briefly experience weightlessness along with enjoy the view before returning home.
Over the course of a decade, Branson’s space outfit built along with tested SpaceShipTwo, called VSS Enterprise, before the spacecraft exploded on October 31, 2014 during its fourth powered test flight ever, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury along with injuring pilot Peter Siebold.
The company has been recuperating ever since. In December, its brand-new SpaceShipTwo, called VSS Unity, took to the skies for the 1st time in an unpowered “glide” test. They’re meant to help work out any kinks in Unity’s landing system.
Powered tests go a step further by actually firing up the spaceship’s rocket motors. If VSS Unity proves up to the task during the powered test flights, Branson could very well fly on a trip to space by mid-2018, according to Bloomberg.
sy88pgw (brand-new York) First published July 5, 2017: 6:04 PM ET