Branson promises commercial SS2 flights this year, and a UAE spaceport soon

SS2 3rd powered flight

SpaceShipTwo fires its hybrid rocket engine during its third powered test flight on January 10, 2014. (credit: Virgin Galactic)

All has been quiet on the SpaceShipTwo test flight front in recent weeks, after the vehicle’s third powered test flight a month ago and a glide test a week later. Despite the lack of public test activity—and continued speculation of problems with the vehicle’s development, including in a recent book—Sir Richard Branson remains confident that SpaceShipTwo will enter commercial service later this year, perhaps after just a few more test flights.

Branson, speaking at the 2014 United Arab Emirates Government Summit Monday in Dubai, said he was still confident that SpaceShipTwo would stary carrying customers on suborbital space tourism flights before the end of the year. “We have 300 engineers beavering away on it,” Branson said, according to Arabian Business. “We have two more test flights [and we should] go into space in three to four months time.”

Last May, Branson, also speaking in Dubai, said he expected to fly in space by Christmas 2013, a date that long since has come and gone. Yesterday, he said he would be worried if he doesn’t fly by the end of this year: “If myself and my family are not in space by the end of the year, I would be very, very worried.”

Branson, at a later event in Dubai, addressed criticism of Virgin Galactic in Tom Bower’s new book. “There are some people who seem to want things to fail and I think he falls into that category,” he said, Bloomberg News reported. “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 also said Virgin was still planning to develop a spaceport in the UAE. “I hope we’ll have a space hub in Abu Dhabi in a couple of years,” he told the UAE publication The National. In April 2012, Virgin Galactic hired Steve Landeene, the former head of Spaceport America in New Mexico, as its “Chief Advisor, Spaceport Abu Dhabi”.

Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough, though, said that it would be some time before a formal announcement about the spaceport would be ready, and likely not until SpaceShipTwo begins commercial flights from Spaceport America. “Once that is established, we may seek the necessary US export approvals to operate from locations outside the US with Abu Dhabi as a likely first overseas base, should those approvals be forthcoming,” he told The National

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