Richard Branson wants to be soaring through the edge of space by July, he said, during a Virgin Galactic event at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. on Thursday. His space tourism company recently flew its suborbital spaceplane, the VSS Unity, higher and than ever before and Branson says he’s hoping to take a test ride himself as soon as possible.
Virgin Galactic donated its RocketMotorTwo, the engine that powered the VSS Unity during its historical launch, to the museum. The British billionaire attended the affair and teased that he’d be soaring through the upper limits of the atmosphere by the summer.
“My wish is to go up on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing [July 20], that’s what we’re working on,” he said during the event. “By July we should have done enough testing.”
Eventually, Branson wants to provide the same service to paying customers. Virgin Galactic has been working toward establishing a space tourism company for 14 years, and it’s already sold spots on the VSS Unity for $250,000. But the company still has some work to do before it is ready to make good on Branson’s latest stated ambition.
The spaceplane’s most recent test flight shattered company records, taking it 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) above the Mojave Desert at peak speeds of Mach 2.9, about 2,225 mph. But the VSS Unity only fired its rocket motors for one minute. Virgin Galactic advertised that the final product will be able to take six passengers to the edge of space for two and a half hours.
Branson’s company has not made plans for further tests public, but more are certainly in the works. As you may remember, back in 2014, the company’s first spaceplane, the VSS Enterprise, suffered a fatal crash. The VSS Unity’s recent success has been grounds for renewed hope, but the incident still lingers as a reminder of the dangers in over-promising on space travel.
VSS Unity has now flown a total of four times and will likely fly a few more times before tourists — or even Branson himself — get to hop onboard.