Could the first Virgin Galactic flight be mere months away?

The entire history of Virgin Galactic thus far has been one of expectation and delay. Back in 2005, when the initiative was first created by Richard Branson, there was some tentative hope that the first private venture carrying the public into space could occur by the following year.

After many, many times, Virgin learned to stop throwing dates around. Space flights aren't nearly as predictable as PR events.

That being said, with working prototypes and a new fuel currently in the testing phase, optimism over at Virgin is beginning to rear its ugly head once again, with Richard Branson recently stating that he expected him and his family on the first flight sometime in early 2015. That's a ridiculously short time from fuel-testing to a live launch.

Richard Branson posing exuberantly in front of a model of Virgin Galactic's White Knight space plane

Richard Branson posing exuberantly in front of a model of Virgin Galactic's White Knight space plane

The optimism exhibited by the 700 ticket-holders on the waiting list is rather wonderful, as it happens. Costing £155,000 (ouch), booking a ticket for an unannounced and possibly non-existent 20 minute flight to the edge of space is quite a leap of faith. In an admirable, yet probably necessary move, Virgin claims these tickets are refundable for any reason and at any time.

Avoiding a technological and/or PR disaster is therefore a constant worry for Virgin Atlantic, since a run on this fund would leave them with only private investments. Although, to be fair, this is approaching about $1bn so far.

Virgin Atlantic are also aware that they're not the only horse in this race. When NASA announced that they were scrapping the Orion plan - the successor to the space shuttle project - they decided to divert funds to commercial entities. The idea was to create and foster an atmosphere of collaboration and competition between companies that could create, not only a technological, but a financially viable space programme.

SpaceX, for example (set up by Elon Musk of PayPal and Tesla fame), is one of these commercial start-ups that had an enormously successful launch with their Dragon capsule, and has been shipping gear to the International Space Station since 2012.

SpaceX's much-celebrated Dragon Capsule delivering... what ever it is that you need to deliver to the International Space Station. Pizza?

SpaceX's much-celebrated Dragon Capsule delivering... what ever it is that you need to deliver to the International Space Station. Pizza?

With the preponderance of other private space flight companies, such as Reaction Engines, Starchaser Industries and Orbital Sciences Corporation, the impetus is on Virgin to deliver the smooth and commercially sound service they've promised for almost a decade.

It seems as though the next phase in the human exploration of space will begin with such commercial space flights, and we really are rooting for Virgin Galactic to provide it. While the 4 minutes of micro-gravity, gazing down upon the Earth, is well outside any reasonable cost, as an event we hope it galvanises  

Richard Branson posing with a  model space plan in 2004, when he promised that Virgin Galactic's first flight would be within a year. Haha, good one, Richard.

Richard Branson posing with a  model space plan in 2004, when he promised that Virgin Galactic's first flight would be within a year. Haha, good one, Richard.