Billionaire Sir Richard Branson yesterday unveiled his latest spaceship in the California desert – SpaceShipTwo – that he will use to ferry fare-paying passengers into space.
The craft will undergo testing over the next 18 months before taking ticketed passengers on short hops above the Earth’s atmosphere.
SpaceShipTwo is built from lightweight carbon composite materials and is powered by a hybrid rocket motor.
Daily space tourism flights are set to begin in New Mexico from Spaceport America, following the completion of test programming and US government licensing.
Thousands of private astronauts will be heading to space once the testing and licensing is finished, with up to six passenger astronauts on each trip.
Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, commented: “This is truly a momentous day. The team has created not only a world first but also a work of art.
“The unveil of SS2 takes the Virgin Galactic vision to the next level and continues to provide tangible evidence that this ambitious project is not only moving rapidly, but also making tremendous progress towards our goal of safe commercial operation.”
Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, added: “All of us at Scaled are tremendously excited by the capabilities of both the mothership and SS2.
“Today is the culmination of a dream that began many decades ago, was stimulated by Paul Allen’s funding of our X-Prize winning SS1 and then moved forward to commercial reality by Sir Richard and Virgin’s visionary investment in a new future for space transportation.”
In 2004, SS1 was successfully launched and went on to win the Ansari X-Prize for completing the world’s first manned private space flights.
By John Kennedy
Photo: Sir Richard Branson’s SpaceShipTwo is to take passengers on trips above the Earth’s atmosphere.