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Virgin Galactic unveils space plane's cabin, poised for commercial flights

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Billionaire Richard Branson's space tourism firm Virgin Galactic revealed the interior of its centerpiece space plane on Tuesday, showing off a cabin with new custom seats and a "space mirror" in a virtual tour of what its passengers can expect to experience on flights to the edge of space.

[WASHINGTON] Billionaire Richard Branson's space tourism firm Virgin Galactic revealed the interior of its centerpiece space plane on Tuesday, showing off a cabin with new custom seats and a "space mirror" in a virtual tour of what its passengers can expect to experience on flights to the edge of space.

For US$250,000 a ticket, passengers who have signed up for the suborbital flight aboard the air-launched plane VSS Unity will strap into six tailored, teal-coloured seats and peer out of the cabin's 12 circular windows as they ascend some 97km above Earth. The plane has five other windows up front.

"We have amazing seats that will be tailored to each person, and that move during the flight to maximise people's comfort," Virgin Galactic chief space officer George Whitesides told Reuters, adding that passengers can unbuckle themselves at peak altitude to float around the cabin in zero-gravity conditions.

The company has 600 customers signed up to fly and more than 400 more who have expressed interest, Whitesides said. It has not set a firm date for its first commercial space flight, with its British founder Branson expected to be aboard.

The cabin, revealed in a virtual-reality headset the company provided to journalists and paying customers, also features a large, circular mirror "to allow our customers to see themselves in space in a way that has really never been done before," Mr Whitesides said.

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The plane, attached to a bigger carrier plane, is intended to take off from the company's New Mexico spaceport and detach mid-air to launch further toward the edge of space in a trip lasting 90 minutes.

Virgin Galactic is on track to clear its final testing milestones to obtain a commercial operating license from the US Federal Aviation Administration after it conducts "a small number of flights" carrying four test passengers, Whitesides told a news briefing.

Mr Whitesides said Virgin Galactic may temporarily increase ticket prices from US$250,000 in the future but hopes someday to make the experience more affordable to "as many people as possible."

Virgin Galactic went public in October after merging with Social Capital Hedosophia, the special-purpose acquisition vehicle run by early Facebook Inc executive and venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya.

REUTERS

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