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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Branson unveils Virgin spaceship
Will Whitehorn (l), President Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard Branson (c), founder Virgin Group, and Stephen Attenborough, head of Astronaut Relations   Image: AFP/Getty
The "spaceships" are designed to carry a maximum of eight people

Sir Richard Branson has unveiled a mock-up of the rocket-powered vehicle that will carry clients into space through his Virgin Galactic business.

The Virgin spaceships are designed to carry six passengers and two pilots to an altitude of about 140km on a sub-orbital space flight.

Tickets on a Virgin Galactic flight are expected to cost 100,000 ($190,000).

The mock-up of the spacecraft was unveiled at the Javits exhibition centre in New York on Thursday.

The Virgin craft are based on the design of SpaceShipOne, built by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, which became the first privately built vehicle to reach space in 2004.

SpaceShipOne made three flights to altitudes just greater than 100km - the edge of the Earth's atmosphere - claiming the prestigious Ansari X-Prize.

Public access

The rocket plane was first carried to a launch altitude of 15km (50,000ft) by an aircraft, or mothership, called White Knight.

It was then released and ignited its rocket engine, which propelled it through the atmosphere.

Virgin boss Richard Branson sitting in a passenger seat in the mock-up of SpaceShipTwo  Image: AFP
Sir Richard tested a passenger seat inside the mock-up
The $10m (5.7m) Ansari X-Prize was offered to the first non-government, manned flight into space.

Virgin Group has contracted Rutan's company Scaled Composites to design and build the passenger spaceship and its mothership. Virgin Galactic will own and operate at least five spaceships and two motherships.

The passenger flights, which could begin in 2009, will take off from a $225m (127m) facility called Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert.

Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, said the firm was in negotiations over a reality TV show.

In the show, contestants would compete to win a place on a space flight, the Press Association reported.

Mr Whitehorn said: "The indications are that we can create a show that would give people the chance to go into space. It would be a cross between Dr Who, Star Trek and the Krypton Factor."

Virgin Galactic is one of several private firms vying to open up public access to space.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
See a simulation of the Virgin Galactic flight



SEE ALSO
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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