Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of private spaceflight firm Virgin Galactic, will be one of the first to go into space in one of his company’s rockets, it has been revealed.
As long as two test flights scheduled for the autumn are successful, Branson will go into orbit early next year, Virgin Galactic said last night.
The news came as the firm announced a raise of $460m (£351m) through a sale of its shares for general corporate purposes.
Separately, the Telegraph revealed that Virgin Galactic had brought engine-maker Rolls-Royce on board to help with designs for a new supersonic jet.
Virgin is reportedly looking into designs for a small jet – capable of carrying 19 passengers – that can travel at speeds up to Mach 3 (approximately 2,000mph) at altitudes of 60,000ft.
If successful, it will mark the return of supersonic air travel since the retirement of the iconic Concorde from service in 2003.
The new plane has already been dubbed “son of Concorde” by some. Rolls-Royce also designed the engine for the original plane.
Branson’s firm is one of a number of private enterprises jostling for position in a new space race designed at bringing private citizens into orbit.
This weekend Elon Musk’s SpaceX completed the first space mission from American soil in over a decade after NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday evening.
In May, the firm’s Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Kennedy in Florida, taking the two to the International Space Station.
Upon their return, Musk said: “This day heralds a new age of space exploration. I’m not very religious, but I prayed for this one.”
The billionaire entrepreneur later tweeted: “When space travel becomes as common as air travel, the future of civilization will be assured.”
Other firms in the race include Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which is focused providing on sub-orbital flights for consumers.