Speaking before a business conference in Kuala Lumpur, entrepreneur Richard Branson confirmed that his Virgin Galactic company will be ready to begin commercial space flights within the next 18 months, French news agency AFP reported on Monday.
“We just finished building SpaceShipTwo. We are 18 months away from taking people into space,” the British billionaire told those attending the conference. According to the AFP, he also noted that the cost of the service would begin at $200,000.
Furthermore, Branson added that his company was looking to create destinations for their travelers, telling AFP that they were “looking” at creating hotels in space, possibly on the moon. He also told reporters that Virgin Galactic was considering launching “small satellites into space” to help schools, colleges, and universities.
In July, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), also known as the VSS Enterprise, completed its first crewed flight–a six-plus hour flight that started at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. SpaceShipTwo, which was built by aviation engineer Burt Rutan, was launched with the assistance of WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), also known as VMS Eve. The crew consisted of Mark Stucky, Peter Kalogiannis, and Brian Maisler on board the VMS Eve, and Peter Siebold and Michael Alsbury onboard the VMS Enterprise.
According to the AFP report, Virgin Galactic had already collected $45 million in deposits from more than 300 individuals reserving seats on board the six-person spacecraft. The news agency notes that the craft will ascend to a height of 50,000 feet before shedding the WK2 and continuing on into suborbital space. There, passengers onboard SS2 will be allowed to see the Earth from space and experience floating in zero gravity conditions.
Construction on SS2, which has been dubbed the world’s first manned commercial spacecraft by its creators, began in 2007. The vehicle was officially unveiled in December 2009.
“This is truly a momentous day,” Branson said in a statement at the time. “The team has created not only a world first but also a work of art. The unveil of SS2 takes the Virgin Galactic vision to the next level and continues to provide tangible evidence that this ambitious project is not only moving rapidly, but also making tremendous progress towards our goal of safe commercial operation.”
Image Caption: Sir Richard Branson with model of SpaceShipTwo. Credit: Virgin Galactic
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