Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight division of Richard Branson's Virgin Group, formally unveiled its first spacecraft in New York City today. The ship, named SpaceShipTwo, is nearing the final phases of construction by Scaled Composites.
The risks of spaceflight have not deterred others. Virgin Galactic claims up to 200 people have already booked seats on the sub-orbital craft through 2009. Though the initial ticket price is $200,000, a British businessman named Alan Watts was able to redeem two million frequent flier miles for a 2009 flight. Branson promised that after the first 100 passengers, the deposit cost will dip to $100,000 for the next 400 passengers.
Eventually, Branson hopes to bring suborbital flight to as low as $20,000 per person.
The ship will reach a maximum altitude of 68 miles, just exceeding the formal boundary of space. Total time for each flight is projected to be in the 2.5 hour range, which includes six minutes of weightlessness at the peak of the suborbital phase.
The spacecraft will fold its wings up for reentry into atmosphere, then fold them back again immediately before landing.
Launches will occur from underneath a mother ship known as WhiteKnightTwo, also unveiled in New York today. All flights will originate from Upham, New Mexico.