US firm unveils two-seat craft for space tourism

BEVERLY HILLS, California, March 26, 2008 (AFP) – Plans for a two-seater aircraft designed to shuttle tourists to the brink of outer space were unveiled Wednesday by a firm aiming to secure a slice of the nascent galactic travel market. California-based XCOR Aerospace hopes that its Lynx craft will allow space tourists to get a tantalising glimpse of the heavens for a fraction of the cost of similar projects planned by companies such as Virgin.

Jeff Greason, chief executive of XCOR, said the Lynx, which has not yet been built, would be able to take off and land like an airplane and make four daily flights lasting around 30 minutes.

“She takes off and lands like an airplane, using only rocket power. However, it’s airframe is designed from scratch to take advantage of the rocket,” Greason told reporters at a press conference.

“It gives that vehicle the performance to fly off the ground to the edge of space, providing people a view of the bright sky above, and letting them look at the earth and the atmosphere below.”

The craft, which is smaller than a business jet at just 8.5 meters (27.9 feet) in length, would be able to seat a pilot and one passenger, Greason said.

The Lynx Mark I would be able to reach an altitu