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Virgin Galactic test flights will start again this year

Virgin Galactic will press ahead with further SpaceShipTwo test flights during 2015, the company has confirmed. Development of the commercial space project has been on hold since the tragic crash at the end of October which killed co-pilot Mike Alsbury.

This time around, Virgin Galactic will take responsibility for the test flights from its partner Scaled Composites. “We’re committed to making any modifications or improvements that we feel are necessary to improve the safety of the vehicle,” Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides has said, as Discovery News reports. “Because we made the investments required to begin building this vehicle years ago, our return to flight is closer than might otherwise have been expected.”

The second version of SpaceShipTwo was already under construction when last year’s crash happened, and the company says it will be ready to fly in 2015. “Our company is turning the corner and looking to the future,” added Whitesides. “Most of all, our team and our investors remain committed to the goal of opening space for all.”

An investigation into the October accident is currently being handled by the  National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Initial reports indicate that co-pilot Alsbury released the spaceship’s moveable tail section too early, before an adequate speed had been reached — the aircraft became unstable and was pulled to pieces as a result. Pilot Pete Siebold was able to parachute to safety and is still recovering.

“The support of our Future Astronaut community has been overwhelming: their loyalty during this time confirms that there is a real and passionate belief in and demand for private space travel,” reads a statement on the Virgin Galactic website. “We have also received support from people all around the world, both on the ground and in space. You have encouraged Virgin Galactic to continue our part in a long, often difficult tradition of exploration and advancement. You have told us that you believe that the space frontier must be opened, just as we do. For that, we thank you.”

Before the fatal incident, a time period of five-to-ten years had been suggested as a realistic target for getting tourists into space with a short period of training. Celebrities including Lady Gaga, Leonardo DiCaprio, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber have already put down $250,000 to be on the first flight.

[Image courtesy of Mark Greenberg / Virgin Galactic]