Richard Branson poised to blast off into space in historic flight

After a lifetime of yearning to fly in space, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson is poised to blast off aboard his own rocket ship within hours in his boldest, grandest adventure yet.

But the weather at Spaceport America has delayed the historic flight by 90 minutes. The launch time is now set for about 12.30am (AEST).

Richard Branson, third from right, with his flight crew. (AP)

The thrill-seeking billionaire has joined five company employees also assigned to the test flight to the edge of space high above the southern desert of New Mexico.

Ever the showman, Mr Branson dramatically counted down the days to liftoff via Twitter.

He viewed the brief up-and-down trip as a confidence builder — not only for the 600-plus people already holding reservations and waiting in the wings, but potential space tourists willing to plunk down a few hundred-thousand dollars for a shot at space.

The test flight will launch from New Mexico. (AP)

The London-born founder of the Virgin Group, who turns 71 in a week, wasn’t supposed to fly until later this summer.

Virgin Galactic doesn’t expect to start flying customers before next year.

The flight, if successful, will see Branson take a leap forward in the billionaires’ space race. (AP)

Blue Origin has yet to open ticket sales or even announce prices but late last week boasted via Twitter that it would take clients higher and offer bigger windows.

Unlike Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which launch capsules atop reusable booster rockets, Virgin Galactic uses a twin-fuselage aircraft to get its rocket ship aloft.

The space plane is released from the mothership about 13.4km up, then fires its rocket motor to streak straight to space. Maximum altitude is roughly 70km, with three to four minutes of weightlessness provided.

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The rocket plane — which requires two pilots — glides to a runway landing at its Spaceport America base.

Virgin Galactic reached space for the first time in 2018, repeating the feat in 2019 and again this past May, each time with a minimal crew.

It received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration last month to start launching customers.

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