Branson: Virgin Galactic To Put People In Space in 'Weeks, Not Months'

Richard Branson said Monday his Virgin Galactic will begin space test flights in a matter of weeks. File

But on Tuesday, Virgin Galactic owner and entrepreneur Richard Branson told CNBC that he expected the company to send test pilots to space "within weeks, not months", and that he was ready to follow as the first private space traveler aboard a private spaceship soon after.

"There are almost four and a half billion people who are not connected, so we're hoping that will go well", Branson said.

Branson and his space company have continuously been conducting space flight tests these past years. It is likely that Virgin Galactic is aiming to keep up with SpaceX and Boeing who, despite delays and difficulties, are set to launch test flights in 2019. Neither company, however, has provided any details of ticket prices. The company is developing commercial spacecraft and aims to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists and suborbital launches for space science missions.

In an interview with CNBC, Branson said his company was "more than tantalisingly close" to its first landmark flight beyond Earth's atmosphere, stating: "we should be in space within weeks, not months".

He said his space tourism firm will carry passengers beyond orbit "not too long after" that. "And it is up to us to produce as many spaceships as we can to cater to that demand".

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.

Virgin Galactic now has about 800 passengers on its roster, all of whom have paid around $250,000 (£190,000) for a return trip to space.

And now Branson has told CNBC news channel its first space flight could be imminent.

The British billionaire said Musk's late-night tweets - which have landed him in hot water a number of times this year - are a key "flaw" he must overcome. "Both of our crafts are pretty different, and obviously we think that people will prefer our offering". In the Asia-Pacific, there are seven clubs each in Thailand and Australia. The company plans to provide orbital human spaceflights as well.

"For Australia, Thailand and Singapore, there's room for expansion".

At an age when most other people are already retired and kicking up their feet, Mr Branson - whose estimated net worth is about US$5 billion - is not even thinking of slowing down. "I love life, I love people, I love learning, and I love the variety of what I do", said the man who describes himself on his Twitter profile as a "tie-loathing adventurer, philanthropist and troublemaker who believes in turning ideas into reality".

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