Virgin Galactic Space Launch Expected This Year

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Virgin Galactic is on track to send a test flight into space this year, although tourist flights are not expected to start until 2014, according to recent news reports. An article in the January issue of IEEE Spectrum says Richard Branson expects to be aboard a flight into space by the end of this year. And BBC News, in a recent interview with pilot David Mackay, said Virgin's tourist flights are on track to start next year. The flights will reach higher than 350,000 feet. "The view will be fantastic," Mackay said. "And of course you'll be able to experience weightlessness." Virgin Galactic said in December that SpaceShipTwo completed its first glide while configured for powered flight.

It was the 23rd test flight for the ship in glide mode, and there are at least two more to go before its first powered test flight, the company said. "This was a significant flight as it was the first with rocket motor components installed, including tanks," Virgin Galactic said. "It was also the first flight with thermal protection applied to the spaceship's leading edges." More than 500 customers have already signed up for a seat, at about $200,000 each. AVweb readers apparently are eager to join them . in a poll in July, 64 percent of those who responded said that if money was not an obstacle, they were ready to sign up immediately to go into space.