The sky is no longer the limit for a host of entrepreneurs who are vying to offer the first tourist trip into space.
Here’s what we know about Virgin Galactic and why Sir Richard Branson thinks he’s «tantalizingly close».
What is Virgin Galactic?
Intrepid explorers could soon be able to travel into space with Virgin Galactic, the company’s bold foray into space.
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Branson initially predicted the maiden space flight would launch by 2009, but the date has been repeatedly pushed back after technical problems.
If all goes to plan, space fans will be launched more than 50 miles above Earth — a point at which NASA define travelers as astronauts.
Passengers will ride aboard SpaceShipTwo, a spaceplane designed to carry six passengers and two pilots.
It is carried aloft by a large airplane before breaking away and zooming to an altitude of about 62 miles.
Last year, Professor Stephen Hawking unveiled Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo craft, called VSS Unity, after the first SpaceShipTwo craft VSS Enterprise crashed during tests in 2014.
Virgin Galactic is currently up against fierce competition in the private space race from firms such as Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
How much will it cost to fly to space?
With a hefty price tag of $250,000 (£175,000) a ticket, the opportunity will be targeted at celebrities and wealthy thrillseekers, as well as researchers.
Branson has said that «ultimately» he would like to see the price fall as low as $40,000 (£30,700) over the next decade.
And there are already a whole host of 700 celebrities and scientists desperate to get a chance to try the spacecraft — including Hollywood A-listers Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Space scientist Stephen Hawking, 75, said the Virgin boss had offered him a seat.
When will Richard Branson’s spaceship launch?
After years of fine-tuning, Branson said in October 2018 that the Galactic was just «weeks» away from its first trip to space.
He told CBC they were «more than tantalizingly close» from the operation.
«We should be in space within weeks, not months,» he said. «And then we will be in space with myself in months and not years.»
The serial entrepreneur said he had undergone astronaut, fitness and centrifuge training in recent months, adding: «We will be in space with people not too long after that so we have got a very, very exciting couple of months ahead.»