Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson says the company will return to space before the end of the year and he’s looking forward to a trip there shortly afterward. The company essentially had to start over after losing its spacecraft SpaceShipTwo in a crash in 2014 that killed one of the two pilots onboard. There will be a series of test flights before the new spacecraft heads to the edge of space with paying passengers aboard the new craft, named Unity, and Branson said he’ll be on that flight. “I’m not allowed up until the [test pilots] have broken it in a few times, first,” he said. “I would love to have gone on this very [first] flight, but [pilots] are incredibly brave people.”
Like the original spacecraft, Unity will be carried to the high flight levels by an aircraft before being dropped and the rocket engine is fired to carry the vehicle to 100 kilometers above the ground. Branson said the flight control system was assessed and redesigned after the 2014 accident. It was determined that SpaceShipTwo’s air braking system was prematurely deployed causing the inflight breakup of the vehicle. Branson considered abandoning the project but said he was convinced to carry on by a massive outpouring of public support. There are about 600 future astronaut hopefuls who have reserved the $200,000-$250,000 tickets for the brief flight.