Branson Reiterates Plan to Fly By End of Year

Sir Richard Branson "high tens" with SpaceShip2 test pilot Mark Stuckey following the successful first powered flight of SpaceShipTwo. At left is Mark Stuckey's wife Cheryl and at right is Virgin Galactic President and CEO George Whitesides..  The spacecraft was dropped rom its "mothership", WhiteKnight2 over the Mojave, CA area, April 29, 2013 at high altitude before firing its hybrid power motor. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Sir Richard Branson “high tens” with SpaceShip2 test pilot Mark Stuckey following the successful first powered flight of SpaceShipTwo. At left is Mark Stuckey’s wife Cheryl and at right is Virgin Galactic President and CEO George Whitesides.. The spacecraft was dropped rom its “mothership”, WhiteKnight2 over the Mojave, CA area, April 29, 2013 at high altitude before firing its hybrid power motor. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Maria Bartiromo talks to Richard Branson about a number of subjects, including Virgin Galactic.

Q: You mentioned Virgin Galactic — what is your timing in terms of this program taking off?

A: I’ll be bitterly disappointed if I’m not into space by the end of the year. The rockets have now tested successfully. We’ve got three more rocket tests and then we should be up, up and away by the end of the year. That should be the start of the program. The space port’s ready. We are now in the last few weeks before finally embarking on the space program.

The “three more rocket tests” are likely the “handful” of additional powered flights that Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has mentioned in recent months.

Parabolic Arc sources say that Virgin Galactic is operating under a Dec. 31 deadline to fly Branson into space from its primary backer, aabar Investments. Virgin Galactic denies it is under any deadline from aabar, which is owned by the Abu Dhabi government.

SpaceShipTwo has flown three times using rubber-nitrous oxide engines that burned for 16, 20 and 20 seconds apiece. On the final flight, the spacecraft reached 71,000 feet after being dropped from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship from about 50,000 feet.

Seven months have passed since that Jan. 10 flight. SpaceShipTwo has been modified to use a new nylon-nitrous oxide engine that burns smoother and will take the ship to a higher altitude. The goal is to get above 50 miles or 264,000 feet.

The flight tests will take place from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Branson’s flight, which is set to be the first commercial mission, will occur from Spaceport America in New Mexico.