Branson's Training up for a Virgin Galactic Trip Within Months

Richard Branson says Virgin Galactic will be in space 'within weeks not months

Sir Richard Branson has taken the lead in the race to space by claiming Virgin Galactic is just "weeks" away from its first trip into space.

"We are more than tantalizingly close now, so we should be in space within weeks, not months", he told CNBC.

"It would be embarrassing if someone went back over the last thirteen years and wrote down all my quotes about when I thought we would be in space".

He said Virgin would be taking people into space "not too long after" that. In the most recent test in July, the space plane was released from its jet-powered carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, at 46,500 feet before the Unity's pilots lit its rocket.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo on its first test flight in October 2010 to prove the glide-and-land design. The upper atmosphere is generally regarded to give way to space at an altitude of 62 miles (100km), almost twice the altitude achieved in the July test flight. Branson told the New Yorker earlier this year, but he says: "If you are an optimist and you talk ahead of yourself, then everybody around you has got to catch up and try to get there".

Virgin Galactic is "neck and neck" with Blue Origin, run by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, to provide the first commercial spaceflight, Branson said in May.

But while Sir Richard believes Musk is "doing fantastically well" in getting cargo into space - including his own vehicle - the real tussle is between the Virgin boss and Bezos.

The current asking price for a short trip to the lower edges of space costs around £200,000 to book through Virgin Galactic, although Branson says that once his fleet is fully running that could fall to around £40,000 within a decade or so.

And in that time, rivals like SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin have flourished.

Virgin Galactic is not the only firm that hopes to make a business out of space tourism.

The reusable New Shepard rocket and spacecraft is meant to carry up to six space tourists, researchers and/or experiments on brief suborbital flights, the company has said.

Tourists will spend several minutes floating in zero gravity, aboard a spaceship that approaches or passes through the Karman line, the boundary of Earth's atmosphere and space, some 62 miles (100 kilometers) high.

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