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Aera Corp. Heats Up Race For Space

Aera Corp., of Temeculah, Calif., announced on Monday that it has signed a "Commercial Space Operations Support Agreement" with the U.S. Air Force that will allow it to launch its seven-seat rocket-powered spacecraft from a launch pad and land it horizontally on a runway, both at Cape Canaveral. Aera said it will unveil its spaceship, Altairis, this spring at the Planetarium in New York City, in an event the company is calling "The Altairis Adventure Rollout," and will be flying paying passengers into space by the end of next year. Virgin Galactic, which is building a fleet of spacecraft based on Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, has said it expects to be flying in 2007. Altairis will take six passengers and one "mission commander" on a 40-minute suborbital ride flown entirely by computer, the company says. Aera's five-year agreement establishes the ground rules for Aera's access to launch facilities and launch-support services at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.