10 Major Players in the Private Sector Space Race

Virgin Galactic
Close-up of the SpaceShipTwo during its first rocket-powered flight on April 29, 2013. Photo courtesy of Virgin Galactic

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson is about as much of a shrinking violet as Donald Trump, so it comes as little surprise that Virgin Galactic has established its brand as nearly synonymous with space tourism. But what will a ride aboard SpaceShipTwo (SS2) be like?

Here's a sneak peek: After prepping for 2-3 days, travelers will board SS2 -- a 60-foot (18-meter), six-person rocket glider slung below VirginMothership Eve. This dual-fuselage aircraft, which stretches 140 feet (43 meters) from wingtip to wingtip, will climb to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) before releasing SS2. SS2 will then kick in its rockets and hurtle to the edge of space (around 62 miles, or 100 kilometers) on a parabolic flight. After five minutes of weightlessness, the space plane will "feather," using drag to slow its re-entry to 70,000 feet (21,336 meters); from there it will glide to Earth and land airplane-style [sources: Chang; Chang].

As of September 2013, SS2 had tested well, successfully detaching from its carrier plane and rocketing to Mach 1.2 twice. Billionaire Branson says its first spaceflights will take place by early next year. Travel agents are standing by to take your reservations. A mere $250,000 secures your place alongside the 600 passengers already booked as of September 2013 [sources: Chang; Virgin Galactic].

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