Virgin Galactic spaceship to undergo rocket flight tests next year as regular service nears
By Adam Schreck, The Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic plans to begin powered test flights of its rocket spaceship by 2011, a key milestone before launching regular service by mid-decade, the space tourism startup's president said Wednesday.
Will Whitehorn didn't specify when the company would put paying customers into space, but said he believes most of the major hurdles in the project have already been cleared.
"We're not looking at a huge amount of time," Whitehorn said during a visit to Dubai for a spaceflight conference. "As the year breaks into next year, we'll start moving into rocket motor testing and then into space."
Virgin has been signing up customers vying for the chance to be among its first passengers.
Whitehorn said the company has received nearly 330 bookings from customers who have put down deposits of up to $200,000 each to secure a seat. The company has so far taken in about $45 million in deposits, he said.
That enthusiasm has the company expecting to be profitable within two years of starting operations, Whitehorn said.
The start-up date remains uncertain. The Virgin Galactic president said only that commercial operations would begin "when we're ready," though he suggested the company would be ferrying passengers to space within five years.
"If it's not, I'll be retiring," he told reporters with a smile.