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Delay-Plagued Virgin Galactic Finds Itself Delayed, Again

It will be hard for Virgin Galactic to fly by 2015 without a fully tested rocket engine

Back in 2005 Virgin Galactic and New Mexico worked out a deal for the state to build a multimillion dollar spaceport. Here's Richard Branson (right) giving Governor Bill Richardson a model airplane to commemorate the occasion. (Ben Chrisman/Reuters/Corbis)
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Virgin Galactic has found its quest to pioneer the commercial spaceflight industry once again delayed, says the Albuquerque Journal. The company had said it would launch people into space sometime late in 2014. Richard Branson, the persistent optimist (and the company's head), now says the first flights will launch at the beginning of next year. 

As Smart News has written before, Virgin Galactic has been this close to sending people to space for a decade. In 2004, the company said it would put people in space by 2007. In 2005, they said 2008. In 2010, the window had narrowed to 18 months. In 2012, it was to be no later than 2013. Somewhere in there the timeline slipped to the end of 2014, says the Journal, and now it's being pushed back again.

So far, says the Journal, more than 700 people have turned over more than $140 million to hold their place in line for the time when, eventually, the line gets moving.

Space flight is hard, and what Virgin is attempting to do is largely without precedent. Even the spaceflight champions of the world at NASA have had projects canceled because they were over time and over budget.

Yet if we're to believe Branson's projected timeline, the list of what Virgin Galactic would need to pull off to launch people by early 2015 is staggering.

Earlier this year we wrote that the company still didn't have approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to carry passengers. In May, Virgin Galactic did sign an agreement with the FAA that governed how it would make flights out of the New Mexico spaceport, but as NBC News wrote at the time, the FAA still needed to approve a commercial license for the company for those flights to actually happen. According to the Journal, Virgin Galactic is still "awaiting approval of a commercial flight licence from the Federal Aviation Administration."

The company has also switched rocket fuels and with that change has had to redesign its rocket engine. That means more on-the-ground testing. That new engine has yet to fly.

“Virgin Galactic has blown through its timeline repeatedly over the years as it works to overcome technological challenges. The company has said safety is its priority, not speed to market,” says the Journal.

According to Virgin Galactic's website, the (recently increased) $250,000 ticket price is refundable “subject to the Virgin Galactic Deposit Terms and Conditions.”

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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