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Virgin Galactic is to start testing a second spaceship before the end of the year.

This follows a fatal crash suffered by the space venture of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group last autumn.

Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides was reported by the Financial Times as saying that the new spacecraft would be better because of the lessons learnt from the crash, which occurred when a test pilot unlocked a mechanism meant to slow a descending craft while it was climbing.

Speaking at the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Whitesides gave no details about the findings of an investigation by the US National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash on October 31 killed Michael Alsbury, the flight’s co-pilot, and seriously injured Peter Siebold, the pilot.

Sir Richard has vowed that the company will press ahead with its efforts to carry paying passengers into space on board its craft, which is lifted into the upper atmosphere by a conventional aircraft then released and allowed to power up towards the edge of space.

“The first message that I wanted to communicate is that we are moving forward well,” Whitesides told the symposium. “The team is doing great and has turned a corner — that is the second spaceship.”

Virgin Galactic had been through an experience that many in the space industry had suffered, Whitesides said. “I think, ultimately, we will have a better spaceship for it.”

The company aimed to start testing the craft before the end of the year.

“We still have roughly 700 folks who are eager to fly,” Whitesides said of the customers who had put down deposits for flights. “Things, I think, are moving forward in a positive way, and that’s encouraging.”

However, the future of the suborbital space flight programme is likely to depend on the findings of the NTSB, which has said little about the crash since its preliminary report, issued days afterwards.

The NTSB issues its final reports within a year of incidents it