Branson's children to join him on first space trip

British billionaire Richard Branson says his children will join him on the first of his Virgin Galactic space flights, as he unveiled a new satellite launching service.

The entrepreneur said he and his adult son Sam and daughter Holly hoped to make the journey on the SpaceShipTwo, or SS2, aircraft by the end of 2013.

The WhiteKnightTwo aircraft that will help launch SS2 into space will also be used for a new launch vehicle, LauncherOne, which will take small satellites into space for around one tenth of the present cost, Branson said.

"Obviously this is the most exciting adventure I have ever undertaken," the Virgin Galactic founder said while outlining his plans at the Farnborough Air Show in southwest England.

"It's both an entrepreneurial and personal adventure in being able to build a spaceship and ask my children to come along who can also enjoy it. It's every boy's dream."

Branson unveiled a full size replica of SS2 at the show.

In all, 529 people have put down a deposit to clinch a space on the 96.54 km, two-hour ride into space, at a cost of NZ$250,000 each.

Around 120 of them were at the Branson event in Farnborough.

Actor Ashton Kutcher and scientist Stephen Hawking are among those who have signed up to join the programme when it gets under way in late 2013 to early 2014, according to Branson.

The flights are expected to start from Spaceport America in New Mexico with plans afoot to build a second spaceport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The WhiteKnightTwo, a large twin-fuselage aircraft joined by a central wing, will launch the SS2 craft, which carries two pilots and six passengers, at approximately 15,240m.

Once separated from the mothership, the vehicle will ignite its hybrid rocket and fly to the edge of space before gliding back to perform a conventional runway landing.

Passengers will be able to experience a brief period of weightlessness as its flight path overlaps Earth's upper atmosphere.

In a separate enterprise, LauncherOne is expected to begin commercial operations in 2016 and can carry up to 227kg of weight for prices below NZ$12.5m.

-AFP

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