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Virgin Galactic Is Six Years Behind Schedule

Had Promised The First Commercial Flights By Early 2009

With great fanfare, Sir Richard Branson said back in 2005 that he would have civilians in space by "2008 or early 2009," and the wealthy lined up to put down deposits on their space adventures.

Similarly, the taxpayers of New Mexico agreed to $225 million in taxes and incentives to build a spaceport in the desert. That has been accomplished. There is a 12,000 foot runway, fuel depot, and high-tech weather station at Spaceport America.

But the U.K. newspaper The Mail reports that the citizens of New Mexico have not seen any return on their investment in Virgin Galactic, and only 10 local jobs have been created so far. Meanwhile, the company is about six years behind schedule for that first ride aboard SpaceShipTwo to the fringe of space.

There has been some progress. SpaceShipTwo has flown under its own rocket power past the speed of sound to an altitude of 71,000 feet. But it remains a prototype under development.

The paper reports that some of those who have ponied up as much as $225,000 for a slot aboard the spacecraft are getting "restless". They first put down their deposits in 2005, meaning next year would mark a decade since they got in line.

Branson now says the first flight of SpaceShipTwo to space will be in February or March of 2015. But Pat Hynes, the director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium says it's unlikely that the first tourists will be aboard before 2018. Hynes said that everyone who has asked for a refund of their deposit has received it from Branson.

Still, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides says that the business model is solid and the goal is attainable. "Our priority has always been to do thing right, because this is a complex project," he told the paper.



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