Branson family to go galactic

Sir Richard Branson used the platform provided by the Farnborough Airshow yesterday to announce that he and his two children, Holly and Sam, will be on the first space flight of his Virgin Galactic service next year.

The service, which costs £128,000, has signed up 529 customers, including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, to travel 60 miles into space in the six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShip Two (SSE) aircraft.

Sir Richard also confirmed that he will turn his hand to launching satellites, through his new LauncherOne service. He will use the carrier jet for the commercial space flights to double up as an aerial platform for launching small satellites.

LauncherOne and SpaceShipTwo will both be flown into the air beneath and carrier jet and released. Once separated, the vehicle's rocket engine will fire to carry it into space.

"I believe this new vehicle will create a long-overdue shake-up of the whole satellite industry, disrupting current norms and limitations in exactly the way SpaceShipTwo has for human space travel and space-based science research," Sir Richard said.

Elsewhere at Farnborough, Airbus announced two more orders worth a total of $5.4bn (£3.4bn) yesterday, adding to a $4.2bn order from Cathay Pacific on Tuesday.

The European aerospace giant said it had agreed to supply 10 mid-sized long-haul A330 aircraft to the aerospace division of the finance and leasing group CIT in a deal with a list value of $2.3bn.

Airbus also announced an order for 36 current generation A320 aircraft from China Aircraft Leasing, with a list value of $3.1bn. The deal includes eight A321 planes, the largest member of the A320 family of single-aisle aircraft.

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