UK Billionaire Branson Unveils Passenger Spaceship

Monday, 07 Dec 2009 11:26 PM

 

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Billionaire Richard Branson yesterday unveiled the first commercial passenger spaceship, a sleek black-and-white vessel that represents an expensive gamble on creating a commercial space tourism industry.

Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airways, hopes the winged, minivan-sized SpaceShipTwo will rocket tourists into zero gravity beginning in two or three years.

"This will be the start of commercial space travel," Branson said at the launch in California's Mojave Desert. "You become an astronaut."

The project, with a $450 million budget, would see the construction of six commercial spaceships that would take passengers high enough to achieve weightlessness and see the curvature of Earth set against the backdrop of space.

A twin-hulled aircraft named Eve would carry SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of about 60,000 feet before releasing it. The spaceship would then fire its onboard rocket engines, climbing to about 65 miles above Earth.

The trip would take about 2-1/2 hours, with passengers experiencing about five minutes of weightlessness.

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