2008-07-29 01:44:46 GMT 2008-07-29 09:44:46 (Beijing Time) Xinhua English
Virgin Group's Founder billionaire Richard Branson (L) and Burt Rutan, president of Scaled Composites, wave from the window of Virgin Galactic's mothership WhiteKnightTwo during its public roll-out in Mojave, California July 28, 2008. The twin fuselage aircraft WhiteKnightTwo will carry SpaceShipTwo to launch commercial passengers into space.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
BEIJING, July 29 (Xinhuanet) -- The space tourism company Virgin Galactic unveiled Monday the new "mothership" for the suborbital vehicle that will take tourists into suborbital space, as well as plans to entice more than just tourists into space.
At the rollout at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California, Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson made comments that expand the business' potential customer base beyond leisure passengers to include payloads and scientific projects.
The British tycoon said the system "will have the capability to launch small payloads and satellites at low cost."
Virgin Galactic officially declines to offer firm timescales for the project, particularly since last year's accident during early rocket engine development tests in Mojave.
However, company President Will Whitehorn says the project is "getting back on schedule" with the rollout of the mothership, which it calls WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) and the recent resumption of rocket engine test work.
Branson also said the system "has the architecture that could some day be developed into a passenger carrying vehicle, able to take people from A to B around the planet, outside of the atmosphere."
Virgin Galactic still needs to show this will work. The rollout was of an aircraft that has not yet taken flight.
Virgin Galactic, part of Branson's airline, vacation and retail company Virgin Group, hopes to send its first paying customers into space for 200,000 U.S. dollars (100,300 pounds) each within two years.
Branson said that 200 people had signed up for the ultimate sightseeing trip and that he expected the ticket price to drop significantly over the next five years.
Among the passengers expected to make the first trip are physicist Stephen Hawking, actress Victoria Principal and designer Philippe Starck.
Virgin Galactic is one of several contenders in the new commercial space race.