Virgin Galactic prepare for test flights in space!

Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital space plane, the SpaceShipTwo, is preparing for test flights which the company’s owner Richard Branson hopes it will be taking tourists into space by 2012.

For £120,000, wealthy space tourists will be able to enjoy a few minutes’ weightlessness while marveling at views of the Earth from space. So far 300 people have paid in full for their ticket, while a further 82,000 have registered their interest on Virgin Galactic’s website. The engineers behind the craft refer to the rich, middle-aged people as their target market.

A small, rocket-propelled, shuttle-like vehicle around the size of a light aircraft, SpaceShipTwo will be carried to 50,000 feet above sea level – 20,000 feet higher than most airliners – by its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo.

Once there, SpaceShipTwo’s own rocket engine will fire, launching the little ship to the boundary between the atmosphere and the vacuum of space at three times the speed of sound. After the engines are cut off, they will enter free-fall, experiencing total weightlessness for several minutes.

WhiteKnightTwo has been undergoing flight tests since December last year. The SpaceShipTwo is still under construction and is expected to make its first test flights in the early months of 2010.

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