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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 September 2006, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Buckled up for white knuckle ride
By Sophie Morrison
New York

Virgin spaceship mock-up  Image: PA
The spaceships have a "spacey, hi-tech feel"
Sit back, buckle up and prepare for the in-flight entertainment on board the latest in aircraft technology.

But this is no ordinary vehicle. Where are the tall blonde air stewardesses? The blockbuster movie selection? The pre-take-off gin and tonics?

Virgin Galactic's destination is space and the only entertainment on offer is the white-knuckle ride of a lifetime.

For the bargain price of 100,000, you can bag yourself a place on Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spaceship. The world's first commercial spaceliner, it will rocket customers at four times the speed of sound through the atmosphere on a sub-orbital flight.

Clearly not for the faint of heart or the light of pocket, you would be forgiven for wanting a sneak preview before signing away the hefty 10,000 deposit.

At New York's technology exhibition NextFest, visitors are invited to step on board and see what all the fuss is about.

Reclining seat

Inside, the mock-up craft unveiled here has a suitably spacey, high-tech feel. It is kitted out with a flatscreen TV, giving guests a seductive preview of the journey into space.

Relaxing into the reclining curved seat, the eye is drawn towards the spacecraft's windows. They are dotted along the side and roof of the spaceship, designed to give passengers the most astonishing panoramic view.

Animation of Virgin Galactic flight   Image: Virgin
Virgin says the trips will offer the white knuckle ride of a lifetime
Surprisingly compact inside, the Galactic model is not yet on a par with the spacious luxury of Branson's transatlantic planes. And with room for just six lucky passengers and two crew, you might wonder where the duty free trolley will go.

But Virgin is keen to stress that its "astronauts" will have the room and freedom to enjoy the ride.

During the two-and-a-half-hour flight, passengers will be able to unbuckle and do space somersaults, take photos and view the Earth from space. Imagine showing the family those holiday snaps.

Virgin is also determined its spacecraft will be as stylish as its famous airliners. From the outside, it doesn't look a million miles away from a transatlantic carrier. But somehow much, much sexier.

Safety credentials

The revolutionary aircraft, also dubbed SpaceShipTwo, is streamlined with a gently curving exterior.

Suspended above the Virgin Galactic model is its predecessor, SpaceShipOne. Although dwarfed by its upstart younger sister, SpaceShipOne has actually been to space and back and took the Ansari X-Prize for the first private manned spaceflight.

Virgin Spaceship   Image: Virgin
The spacecraft are launched in mid-air from a "mothership"
Prospective passengers will also be eager to check the safety credentials of Virgin's prize project. Space travel is a risky business.

Virgin is eager to reassure on this front. For one thing, the Virgin spaceship is designed to travel only on sub-orbital flights and launches from a mothership in mid-air.

The craft also uses special feathered wings for safe re-entry into the atmosphere, one of the riskiest phases of the journey.

Sir Richard and other members of the Branson family are willing to bank on it, and have already booked their seats. Surely the ultimate endorsement from the boss?

And why should we mere mortals be interested in this far-out project? Well, the technology used for Galactic, will one day allow us to fly to Sydney in half-an-hour - so they say. Space is getting nearer and the world even smaller.

See a simulation of the Virgin Galactic flight

Branson unveils Virgin spaceship
28 Sep 06 |  Science/Nature
Human spaceflight goes commercial
21 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
Virgin Galactic: The logical next step
27 Sep 04 |  Science/Nature
SpaceShipOne rockets to success
07 Oct 05 |  Science/Nature

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