Virgin Galactic has confirmed that it has accepted deposits for suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo (SS2) from 529 future passenger astronauts.
The news comes following a flurry of recent test activity and confirmation that all major components of SS2’s rocket system have been qualified for powered flight.
The company also announced plans for the world's first air-launched rocket, “LauncherOne”, specifically designed to deliver small satellites into orbit.
Virgin Galactic's space tourism programme is due to begin towards the end of 2012.
Above 45,000ft (14,000 metres)
2 pilots and 6 passenger astronauts
2nd stage of sub-orbital launch system
Apogee: > 110 km (70 miles)
Maximum speed: Mach 3.5 - 4,200 kph - 2,600 mph
SS2 is made of composite materials to give the craft a huge amount of strength while remaining lightweight.
The 50,000ft air release minimizes fuel use and increases safety.
Hybrid rocket motor
This offers important safety and environmental advantages over liquid or solid systems that are more commonly used on manned space vehicles. It means that the pilots will be able to shut down the SpaceShipTwo rocket motor at any time during its operation and glide safely back to the runway.
The aerodynamics of SS2’s pivoted wings act like a shuttlecock, slowing and controlling the spaceship’s re-entry.