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Virgin Galactic announces test flight plans

Can Branson get it up in 2012?

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Virgin Galactic has announced that it expects to go ex-atmospheric in a test flight this year.

The announcement comes hard on Virgin Galactic’s remarks to Playboy magazine about long-term hopes to give space extra sex-appeal via an orbital nookie palace.

With Reuters reporting that Virgin Galactic has pre-sold 500 customers, an initial suborbital test flight is arguably a more achievable goal than a billionaire’s bordello. SpaceShipTwo is being built and tested by the Burt Rutan-founded and Northrop Grumman-owned Scaled Composites.

Neil Armstrong, who needs introduction only in the style guides of newswires, says suborbital space “has been absent for about four decades”, speaking to a conference of sub-orbital researchers in California.

Virgin Galactic test pilot David Mackay told the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference: “We hope to have the rocket motor in the spaceship later this year, and start powered flight testing”, the Reuters report states.

While the project isn’t being treated as a “Cold War-era space race”, he said that from the first powered flight to the first space flight can “flow pretty quickly … and then it’s not terribly long from there until we have our first commercial flight to space.”

Bloomberg reports that the Abu Dhabi government is leveraging its 37.8 percent investment in Virgin Galactic to attract partnerships in that emirate. Its cashed-up sovereign wealth fund, Aabar Investments, has an eye-watering $US500 billion to spend, and some of that is earmarked to try and turn the oil-funded emirate into an aerospace hub.

A successful 2012 test flight could allow commercial passenger services to start in 2013 or 2014. ®

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