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Sir Richard "on track" to offer space flights this year

Sir Richard Branson’s latest business venture, Virgin Galactic, is on track to offer commercial spaceflights by the end of the year.

During a test flight, the Virgin Galactic spaceplane, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), reached supersonic speeds when it was dropped from a carrier aircraft in the Mojave Desert. The entire engine burn lasted 16 seconds, allowing SS2 to achieve Mach 1.2.

SS2 has been in the air on a number of occasions, but this was the first time that its hybrid motor had been ignited. In future tests the vehicle is expected to reach longer burn durations and this will enable the plane to reach enough velocity to climb more than 100km into the sky.

Sir Richard wants to take passengers on pleasure rides to the edge of space. He said, “Like our hundreds of customers from around the world, my children and I cannot wait to get on board this fantastic vehicle for our own trip to space.”

Virgin Galactic, owned by Sir Richard and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS, has already accepted deposits of more than $70 million (£45.1 million) from almost 600 people.

Sir Richard stated, “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight.

“Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved.”

The first commercial flights will take off from a purpose built facility in the New Mexico Desert called Spaceport America. Each flight will have room for six passengers and two pilots. Those on board will experience an out-of-the-seat, zero-gravity experience.

By Kirsty Hewitt

Sir Richard "on track" to offer space flights this year
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