“We're nearly there.”
It's only April, but Sir Richard Branson has already been very busy in 2017.
Between saying goodbye to Virgin America, expanding Virgin Atlantic, developing a historical diving spot, and vacationing with the Obamas — among other projects and activities — the Virgin Group founder has found time to advance his quest to travel into space, according to a new interview.
Branson's Virgin Galactic has not been his most successful venture so far (its lowest point was a deadly spaceship crash in California in 2014), but he told the Telegraph he has high hopes for the near future.
“The test program is going really well, and as long as we’ve got our brave test pilots pushing it to the limit we think that after whatever it is, 12 years of hard work, we’re nearly there,” he told the U.K. news outlet.
While he refused to give a hard launch date, Branson added: “I think I’d be very disappointed if we’re not into space with a test flight by the end of the year and I’m not into space myself next year and the progam isn’t well underway by the end of next year.”
This was the most information Branson has given the public on his space venture in a bit, but he did mark some major steps off his list in 2016. Last February, Virgin Galactic unveiled its SpaceShipTwo, and in August, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation gave it an operating license. It has not yet, however, completed a test flight beyond 13 miles above the Earth, according to CNN.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk's SpaceX has promised to send two unidentified private citizens to space in 2018. SpaceX has seen its share of setbacks as well, including a rocket explosion in 2015 and one last September, but it made history just last week by successfully relaunching a rocket.
“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred,” Musk said in a statement.
But when it comes to the emphasis on space tourism specifically, Branson's greatest competitor could be Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin, who released photos of his New Shepard passenger capsule last week, and announced plans for human test flights by the end of 2017. He also predicts customers will be taking flights into space by 2018, though ticket prices have not been revealed and seats have not been reserved.