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Mon 28 Feb 2011 06:31 PM

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Virgin Galactic inks deal to send scientists into space

Spaceline part-owned by Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments says science flights are lucrative market

Virgin Galactic inks deal to send scientists into space
Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial space travel operator. Flight tickets are priced from $200,000

Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, the commercial spaceline
part-owned by Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments, has signed a deal to fly
scientists into suborbital space, it said Monday.

The Southwest Research Institute bought two tickets for its
scientists to fly aboard the six-passenger SpaceShip Two, at a cost of $200,000

SwRI plans to buy a further six tickets, at a total cost of
$1.6m, Virgin Galactic said in an emailed statement.

President and CEO George Whitesides said the deal marked
Virgin Galactic’s first foray into the lucrative scientific flights market.

“Science flights will be an important growth area for the
company in the years to come,” he said in a statement.

Engineers are flight testing SpaceShipTwo in California's
Mojave Desert. There's no date for when commercial flights will begin, though
the company has received 400 advance bookings for space experience.  

Built by famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan, SpaceShipTwo
is based on a prototype that won a $10m Ansari X prize in 2004 for being the
first manned private rocket to reach space.

Abu Dhabi state-backed investment firm Aabar Investments
took a 32 percent stake in the company in 2009.

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