Sir Richard Branson yesterday announced that he and his children will be the first passengers when the Virgin Galactic space tourism programme begins.
Virgin boss Sir Richard and son Sam and daughter Holly are expected to be flying 60 miles up into space on the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) aircraft by the end of next year. Yesterday Sir Richard joined about 120 other tourists who have signed up for the two-hour flights, at $200,000 (£128,000) a trip.
As the travellers and Sir Richard posed at Farnborough Air Show beside a replica of SS2, the Virgin chief also announced that the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft that will help launch SS2 into space will also be used for a new launch vehicle – LauncherOne – which will take small satellites into space for around a tenth of the present cost.
The Virgin Galactic team said a number of companies were keen to use LauncherOne.
From a spaceport built in New Mexico, by UK architect Lord Foster, WhiteKnightTwo will take the SS2, with six passengers and two pilots, to a point about 50,000ft (15,240m) up before the SS2 rockets into space.
Sir Richard and other passengers will be able to float around the cabin due to weightlessness before the SS2 effectively becomes a glider for its return to the spaceport.
Virgin Galactic announced yesterday that a total of 529 people – including, it is believed, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – have signed up for an SS2 trip.
This number now outstrips the 528 who have gone into space since Yuri Gagarin’s first trip in 1961.
“Next year Holly and Sam will be joining me for a first voyage into space,” Sir Richard told a packed media conference at Farnborough. “Going into space is a hard business. It keeps my mind buzzing.”
He added that he would have loved to have taken WhiteKnightTwo and SS2 to Farnborough.