Richard Branson unveiled his Virgin Galactic spaceliner for tourists willing to pay 200,000 dollars a ticket on Monday, showing off a white port-holed craft suspended under the wings of a mothership dubbed the White Knight.
Previewing the roll-out of the Virgin Galactic craft in California's Mojave desert, the British billionaire said he planned to be on its first passenger flight in about 18 months time with his family and the space ship's American designer Burt Rutan.
In an interview with CNN before the test-flight, Branson explained how the craft was designed to return to Earth “like a giant shuttlecock” to avoid the buildup of heat that makes re-entry one of the great hazards of space travel. “What happens is that the six potential astronauts will be sitting in the central pod here, what is their spacecraft, and the White Knight will take them up to about 60,000 feet.
“At 60,000 feet, they will drop away and they will then go 2,000 miles per hour in 10 seconds where they get propelled into space,” he said.
Once in space, the travellers can get out of their seats and look back at the Earth through large portholes — the first in any space craft, he said.