Richard Branson, the billionaire investor, announced he will begin sending private people to space before the end of the year. His company, Virgin Galactic, will also be launching Branson and his family on a space trip before the end of 2014.
Development of the rocket has not come without setbacks. Three engineers working for Scaled Composites were killed in a 2007 explosion while testing systems for SpaceShip One. Scaled Composites was a partner of Virgin Galactic at the time, but has since been purchased by Northrop Grumman Corporation.
Virgin Galactic has also been criticized in a new book. Branson Behind the Mask was released on Feb 6. The author, Tom Bower, states Branson's company has not yet developed a rocket engine powerful enough to make regular spaceflight a reality. Bower also claims the investor has not adequately developed his business model for the company.
Branson and his company recently competed the third rocket-power supersonic test flight of his new craft, SpaceShip Two.
"There are some people who seem to want things to fail and I think [Bower] falls into that category. The best way of dealing with people like that is to prove them wrong and we will prove them wrong in the next few months," Branson said, in a trade conference in Dubai.
Rocket for Virgin Galactic currently launches from Spaceport American in New Mexico. Branson pays between $25,000 and $75,000 each time one of his spacecrafts lift off from the desert there. Bower's book calls into question the ability of the spaceport to support its significant costs through private launches.
A second spaceport, in Abu Dhabi, may be open in as little as two years. The facility was built with the financial assistance of investors from the Middle East.
SpaceShip Two will carry six passengers to space, along with a pair of pilots. The craft is roughly the size of a large executive jet. Once in space, the spacecraft is designed with enough room to allow passenger to float during weightlessness.
Another primary goal of Virgin Galactic is developing systems for hyper-sonic flight. An aircraft capable of near-orbital velocities could bring passengers from London to Tokyo in under two hours. Flights like these won't be commercially available until 2026, according to current plans.
"We built Virgin Galactic's spaceships shaped like airplanes, and we want to make them bigger and bigger and faster in years to come. If we can fly to Australia in a couple of hours that would give use a massive advantage," Branson continued.
More than 600 people have purchased ticket to the edge of space so far. Upcoming passengers include actors Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.
For anyone with $250,000 to spare, tickets to the edge of space are already being sold on the Virgin Galactic Website.