Virgin Galactic will be in space in "weeks not months", says Branson

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On Tuesday, while in Singapore, Branson told CNBC that Virgin "should be in space within weeks, not months", conducting test flights.

Virgin Galactic's disaster-struck space tourism programme is apparently nearing final launch readiness, with Branson telling United States news site CNBC that: "We should be in space within weeks, not months".

"Soon after that we will send into space people, so we will have a very interesting few months ahead".

Branson has previously said he thinks Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin would both "have a person in space roundabout the same time".

The next step for the aspiring space tourism firm is get its newly revamped SpaceShipTwo spaceplane to burn its rockets for a prolonged period, allowing the craft to travel faster than before and reach a peak altitude of about 110km.

Talking to BBC Radio 4 earlier this year, the 68-year-old said he had been undergoing astronaut training in readiness for his first space flight.

"I think the market for people who would love to become astronauts and go to space is huge".

But Virgin boss Richard Branson has come out with some bullish words on Galactic's progress.

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Replacement ship VSS Unity completed its first successful glide test in December 2016, and another six by January of this year.

Virgin, meanwhile, offers tickets for $250,000 a pop (but hopes that amount will drop to around $40,000 or $50,000 over the next decade). "And it is up to us to produce as many spaceships as we can to cater to that demand", he added.

Virgin Galactic now has about 800 passengers on its roster, all of whom have paid around $250,000 (£190,000) for a return trip to space.

The reusable New Shepard rocket and spacecraft is meant to carry up to six space tourists, researchers and/or experiments on brief suborbital flights, the company has said.

Branson has been investing in space travel since 2004 and was initially expected to go to space himself before April of this year.

"Taking care of the mental health of staff, customers, and even the wider community should be a priority for any business", Branson said.

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has said it aims for test flights by the end of 2018.