Richard Branson Virgin Galactic
Credit: Courtesy of Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson wants to bring Virgin Galactic back to space by the end of the year, and he hopes to fly to space himself by the middle of 2018.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Branson said that powered tests of Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft will begin this fall, with new tests every three weeks. By November or December, he hopes the rocket will be able to reach space. These tests will be the first powered runs since the company’s 2014 crash that killed the spaceship's pilot.

If all goes according to plan, by mid-2018 Richard Branson himself will be on board a test flight.

Virgin Spaceship Unity (VSS Unity) glides for the first time after being released from Virgin Mothership Eve (VMS Eve) over the Mojave Desert Richard Branson
Credit: Courtesy of Virgin Galactic

Commercial flights are expected to begin towards the end of next year. Tickets to space aboard Virgin Galactic cost $250,000. At least 500 people have reportedly already bought their tickets, including Stephen Hawking, Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Justin Bieber. The 2.5-hour experience will include six minutes of weightlessness.

Virgin Galactic is in a space race with SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, and Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos. However, Branson said he believes there is enough room in the market for all three companies to compete.

Virgin Spaceship Unity flies freely after being released from Virgin Mothership Eve on 1 May 2017. During this test, the feather re-entry system was activated in flight for the first time. Richard Branson
Credit: Courtesy of Virgin Galactic

“There is definitely the demand for all three,” Branson told Bloomberg. “We can take off at 24-hour’s notice, put a couple of satellites up and come back again. With ground-based rockets, there’s quite a long waiting time. Elon has bigger rockets, so he has advantages there.”

Branson’s announcement came on the same day that SpaceX successfully launched its 10th rocket of the year. Last week, the company sent 11 communication satellites to space.