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Thu 12 Jul 2012 10:56 AM

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Virgin Galactic signs up 529 space tourists

UAE-backed venture said it expects to blast 600 people into space in first two years of service

Virgin Galactic signs up 529 space tourists
Abu Dhabi-backed Virgin Galactic, the space tourism arm of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, said 529 would-be astronauts have put down deposits to travel into space.

Abu Dhabi-backed Virgin Galactic, the space tourism arm of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, said 529 would-be astronauts have put down deposits to travel into space.

The firm, which is part owned by the UAE's Aabar Investments, said it was expanding to include a satellite-launching service that would use a low-cost rocket system to propel payloads into orbit.

Speaking at the Farnborough International Air Show, Branson said Virgin Galactic wants to “revolutionise the way we get to space”.

More than 500 people have put their names down for the US$200,000 trip, which will last for around two hours and travel 60 miles high. Virgin said it expects to fly 600 people in the first two years of service.

The cost of flying into space is expected to drop over the next few decades, said Branson. “The initial flights will be sub-orbital, which will give people a taste of space,” he said. “From there we'll go into orbital flights and maybe one day hotels in space.”

Outlining details of the new satellite service, LauncherOne, Branson said the two-stage rocket would also be carried into launching position by WhiteKnightTwo, the same aircraft used to launch the SpaceShipTwo.

The service would drastically reduce the cost of putting satellites into orbit. Four companies, including Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining venture backed by film director James Cameron and Google chairman Eric Schmidt, have already put down deposits for the service. 

“I’m immensely proud of what we have already achieved as we draw near to regular suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo,” Branson said. 

“Now, LauncherOne is bringing the price of satellite launch into the realm of affordability for innovators everywhere, from start-ups and schools to established companies and national space agencies.

“It will be a critical new tool for the global research community, enabling us all to learn about our home planet more quickly and affordably,” he added.

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