Roswell calling: 'Take me to your bearded leader'

Virgin Galactic to pay $1m a year for use of new space port in US desert
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The Independent Online

Sir Richard Branson will sign an agreement this week to lease the world's first private space port near Roswell, New Mexico, where a UFO is alleged to have crashed in the 1940s.

The move is part of Virgin Galactic's plans to start commercial space flights by 2008.

Sir Richard will sign the memorandum of understanding on Wednesday at a special ceremony in the Balloon Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico, presided over by Governor Bill Richardson.

Mr Richardson will announce the state's plans to build the $200m (£114m) space port - where Virgin Galactic's spacecraft will take off and land - in the desert near Roswell. Virgin will not contribute to its construction, but will pay $1m a year to use it for five years from its completion in 2010.

The deal will cap a busy fortnight for Sir Richard, who offered to sell Virgin Mobile to NTL in the UK last week.

Virgin, which is investing $140m in the space project, aims to start testing in 2007. It is building two launch aircraft and five spaceships, which will be able to take six "passenger astronauts" each (helped by 12 Virgin astronauts) for the two-and-a-half-hour, $200,000 flight. A spokesman for Virgin said that $11m in deposits had already been taken, with actress Victoria Principal, the star of 1980s soap Dallas, among those booked.

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