Virgin unveils spaceship designs
Virgin Galactic has released the final design of the launch system that will take fare-paying passengers into space.
It is based on the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne concept - a rocket ship that is lifted initially by a carrier plane before blasting skywards.
The Virgin system is essentially a refinement, but has been increased in size to take eight people at a time on a sub-orbital trip, starting in 2010.
Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson said the space business had huge potential.
"I think it's very important that we make a genuine commercial success of this project," he told a news conference in New York.
"If we do, I believe we'll unlock a wall of private sector money into both space launch systems and space technology.
"This could rival the scale of investment in the mobile phone and internet technologies after they were unlocked from their military origins and thrown open to the private sector."
Virgin Galactic has contracted the innovative aerospace designer Burt Rutan to build its spaceliners. The carrier - White Knight Two (WK2) - is said to be very nearly complete and is expected to begin flight-testing later this year.
SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is about 60% complete, Virgin Galactic says.
Both vehicles are being constructed at Mr Rutan's Scaled Composites factory in California.
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