Virgin Galactic: Branson eyes 2013 launch for private space travel

Virgin Galactic has 529 paid passengers so far, according to billionaire Richard Branson. The tycoon is planning on bringing his kids on the planned Virgin Galactic spaceflight.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
British billionaire Richard Branson poses for photographers in the window of a replica of the Virgin Galactic, which according to the company will be the world’s first commercial spaceline, at the Farnborough International Airshow in Farnborough, England, Wednesday, July 11, 2012.

The first space flight of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic venture will be a family affair: The billionaire adventurer says he will be joined by his adult children.

The British tycoon behind the Virgin business empire that spans cable television, airlines and space tourism revealed that the three will make a 60-mile (100-kilometer) journey on the SpaceshipTwo (SS2) next year. Some 120 other tourists who have signed up for the $200,000 two-hour trips into space over the coming years were also present at the Farnborough Airshow south of London.

"Next year, Holly and Sam will be joining me for a first voyage into space," the thrill-seeker told a packed conference Wednesday on the third day of the show. "Going into space is a hard business. It keeps my mind buzzing."

Virgin says it has 529 paid up passengers already — one more than the total of space travelers since the former Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin became the first man to go into space in 1961.

The future space tourists got their first glimpse of the SS2, with a replica set up outside the auditorium as the real one gets fixed up in the Mojave Desert. It will take off from a spaceport in New Mexico that was designed by British architect Lord Foster. The craft is designed to seat six people as well as the two pilots.

The tourists will have to undergo a week of training at the spaceport before taking their flight.

"I wanted to be the first Irishman in space and I'm really looking forward to it," said 70-year-old businessman and author Bill Cullen, who was the first to sign up for the ride in 2004.

Grant Roberts, 36, said his dream of space flight came from his grandfather, who was a pilot for Britain's Royal Air Force and flew on missions over Germany in World War II.

Branson also said a new launch vehicle — LauncherOne — would take small satellites into space at much lower cost than is now possible The Virgin Galactic team said a number of companies were hoping to use LauncherOne, which is expected to begin operations in 2016 and can carry up to 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of weight.

"It will be a critical new tool for the global research community, enabling us all to learn about our home planet more quickly and affordably," he said.

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