Mother Ship Unveiled for $200,000 Place in Space

After years of secretive construction, Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic presented the first stage of its commercial launch platform, White Knight Two, today at the Mojave Air and Space Port. – wired

British entrepreneur and adventurer Richard Branson on Monday took the wraps off an aircraft that, for $200,000 a seat, may someday take tourists who can afford it on the first leg of regular, albeit very brief, commercial flights into space.

Amid extravagantly orchestrated publicity at a historic test airfield near Edwards Air Force Base, Branson unveiled the double-hulled “mother ship” built to carry a capsule filled with six wealthy tourists high into the stratosphere, from where the smaller ship would rocket into the blackness more than 60 miles above Earth.

The dual-fuselage, all-composite plane expands and refines the smaller version that famed aircraft designer Burt Rutan twice used four years ago to begin the journey of a piloted capsule to sub-orbital altitude, winning the X-Prize competition aimed at encouraging private spaceflight.

No one knows when Virgin Galactic will fly, but about 100 people have already paid full price for the trip, which comes to $50,000 per minute for the four minutes the travelers will spend in weightlessness. An additional 170 have put down deposits.

“It’s no good saying it’s just extravagant. It could lead to all kinds of things,” said Evette Branson after christening the oddly shaped four-engine jet, dubbed Eve in her honor.

“If you’re going to name a mother ship, you might as well name it after your mother,” said her daredevil son, who nearly lost an eye when the champagne cork ricocheted off the fuselage, just below the pinup with the face of the onetime flight attendant. – link

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