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Virgin Advances Space Tourism, Satellite Plans

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Virgin Galactic will make its maiden tourist flight into space next year, Sir Richard Branson announced at the Farnborough Air Show on Wednesday. He also unveiled plans to use WhiteKnightTwo to carry a vehicle called LauncherOne that will deliver commercial satellites into orbit. The vehicle is already in development and is expected to be ready for operations by 2016. It will offer "frequent and dedicated launches at the world's lowest prices," according to Virgin's news release. Four private companies already have put down deposits for several dozen launches. Branson also said Virgin Galactic now has deposits for suborbital tourist flights from 529 people, which is just above the total of 528 people who have flown in space to date.

LauncherOne will be a two-stage vehicle able to carry up to 500 pounds to orbit for prices below $10 million, according to Virgin. "Virgin Galactic's goal is to revolutionize the way we get to space," Branson said. He added that he plans to be on board for the first flight into space next year, along with his two adult children, Holly and Sam. Virgin displayed a full-size replica of SpaceShipTwo at the air show all week. The real spaceship has been busy with flight testing in Mojave, Calif.

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