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Virgin’s Starship Enterprise

Five years ago, SpaceShipOne entered history by becoming the first privately funded human spaceflight, winning the $10million Ansari X-Prize in the process. Today, the next step in the evolution of commercial spaceflight took place with Virgin Galactic’s public unveiling of SpaceShipTwo, also known as the VSS Enterprise. Our good friend Alan Boyle was at the event, and has posted a comprehensive write-up on Cosmic Log, with plenty of insights into Richard Branson’s thoughts about the project:

Branson is spending an estimated $250 million to $400 million on his space venture. The company already has signed up more than 300 would-be spacefliers, including actress Victoria Principal, Hollywood director Bryan Singer and 90-year-old enviro-theorist James Lovelock. Paralyzed cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who sampled zero-G two years ago, may eventually fly as well.

The price for a three-day space tour package, including training, is $200,000.

Is there enough of a market for space travel to allow Branson to recover his investment? “To be perfectly honest, I’m not too worried if I make money or not,” he told our NBC News crew today during a tour of SpaceShipTwo’s hangar in advance of tonight’s ceremony. He said his prime concern was to create something he’s proud of, and have faith that any venture that inspires his pride will end up attracting customers and making money.

Heaps more details at Cosmic Log, go check it out. Also worth looking at is this slideshow and the Virgin website. And if you’re on Twitter, it’s well worth following Alan (@b0yle) for up-to-the-minute news and comment on various space and science related topics.

And for a good insight into the human factor of developing a craft like this (one that, literally, travels faster than a bullet), check out this documentary on SpaceShipOne’s third flight:

As Alan points out in his piece, it’s worth noting the difference in size to the new vehicle.