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Tue, Sep 28, 2004

These Are The Voyages Of The VSS Enterprise...

It's Mission: Draw Tourists Into Space (For A Hefty Sum)

Call it the galactic dream team: Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Group have teamed up with Paul Allen's Mojave Aerospace Ventures to create the world's first privately funded spaceships dedicated to carrying commercial passengers on space flights. The licensing deal with M.A.V. could be worth up to $21.5 million over the next fifteen years, depending on the number of spaceships built by Virgin.

SpaceShipOne, which is solely funded by Paul G. Allen, was designed by aviation legend Burt Rutan and built by his company, Scaled Composites. On June 21st Mike Melvill piloted this unique craft to a height of 100 km (62 miles) and into the history books and record books as the world's first private manned space flight. Separately to Virgin's agreement with M.A.V., the company has also signed a Letter of Intent to agree contract terms with Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites, to utilise the technology in building new spaceships and derivatives thereof, for the purposes of carrying paying passengers on a journey to the stars -- returning to earth as astronauts two hours later.

Virgin has formed Virgin Galactic ('V.G.') a new company, which will become the world's first commercial space tourism operator. It is envisaged that Virgin Galactic will open for business by the beginning of 2005 and subject to the necessary safety and regulatory approvals begin operating flights from 2007. The name was first registered and trade mark protection applied for in the mid 1990s. It is expected that around GBP 60 million ($100 million) will be invested in developing the new generation of spaceships and ground infrastructure required to operate a sub orbital space tourism experience. Over five years Virgin expects to create around 3000 astronauts and the price per seat on each flight, which will include at least three days of pre-flight training, are expected to start at around GBP 115,000 ($190,000). Virgin will reinvest the proceeds in developing a new generation of vehicles for further space ventures. To date the cheapest space tourism experiences in government built and taxpayer funded spaceships cost over $15,000,000 per seat.

As a prelude to these exciting developments Virgin is also very pleased to have agreed terms to sponsor SpaceShipOne on its historic Ansari X Prize flights later this week and in early October.

"We've always had a dream of developing a space tourism business," said Sir Richard, "and Paul Allen's vision, combined with Burt Rutan's technological brilliance, have brought that dream a step closer to reality. The deals with both their companies, being announced today, are just the start of what we believe will be a new era in the history of mankind, making the affordable exploration of space by human beings real. We hope to create thousands of astronauts over the next few years and bring alive their dream of seeing the majestic beauty of our planet from above, the stars in all their glory and the amazing sensation of weightlessness. The development will also allow every country in the world to have their own astronauts rather than the privileged few."

"I backed the development of SpaceShipOne because I saw this as a great opportunity to demonstrate that space exploration could someday be within the reach of private citizens," said Allen. "Today's deal with Virgin represents the next stage in the evolution of the SpaceShipOne concept, and will likely be the first of a number of deals that will utilize the technology developed during its creation. I am very happy to have Virgin and Richard Branson as sponsors of our X-Prize attempt and excited about space tourism."

Rutan was thrilled. "Apart from building SpaceShipOne for Paul and then watching it fly to space on June 21st this is one of the most exciting days of my life. Our June space flight was flown with several new technologies that address both the cost and safety of manned space flight. These, combined with the lessons learned from our SpaceShipOne research program, will enable us to develop the finest suborbital operational systems possible. I am looking forward to getting started on the development program and the opportunity to work with Virgin on taking Paul Allen's vision to the next stage."

Virgin Galactic hopes to formally commence the contractual and design phase of the project after the conclusion of the Ansari X-Prize flights September 29th and October 4th. Construction of the first spaceship, the "VSS ENTERPRISE," is set to begin in 2005.

FMI: www.virgingalactic.com

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