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What is Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo?

SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is a rocket plane belonging to Sir Richard Branson's space tourism venture Virgin Galactic that aims to fly six passengers and two pilots to space and back.

The 60ft-long craft has been under development at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California after its initial presentation in 2009 as the company attempts to turn the dream of commercial space travel into a reality.

Sir Richard Branson and US aerospace engineer Burt Rutan posed in front of SpaceShipTwo, attached to carrier plane WhiteKnightTwo, ahead of its official presentation in 2009. Credit: Mark Greenbe/DPA

SS2 allows its passengers to float in zero gravity in a 90" diameter cabin or remain seated with window views out of the craft at their side and above their heads.

It was designed to be carried 15km into the air by the WhiteKnightTwo jet and then released by the mothership, whereupon a rocket motor ignites to fire the craft to an altitude of 110km, before it returns to Earth as a glider.

Virgin Galactic posted footage of the SS2 going supersonic for the first time on its YouTube account in April 2013:

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Witness says Virgin Galactic craft exploded over desert

A photographer who saw Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo crash has said the space tourism craft exploded over California's Mojave Desert after igniting its rocket motor.

Witness Ken Brown confirmed the wreckage was in the desert north of Mojave Air and Space Port.

Ken Brown, who was quoted by the Associated Press, said the craft had been carried to high altitude by a plane and released before the crash.

One pilot has died and another has suffered "major injury" in the crash, according to an official from the California Highway Patrol.

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Sir Richard Branson flying 'immediately' to crash site

Sir Richard Branson has tweeted that he is flying out to Mojave Air and Spaceport in California after Virgin Galactic's rocket plane SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight, killing one of the two pilots on board.

Could Gatwick expansion herald new era of cheap flights?

A little known airline has waded into the debate about the expansion of Gatwick airport after announcing plans to double the number of low cost trans-altantic flights it offers.

Norwegian Air currently flies 42 routes from the Sussex airport, including four to the US with prices as low as £300. In the New Year this number will double in a move the boss of Gatwick has described as a 'game changer' - both for the future of trans-Atlantic travel and for the debate about future airport expansion. John Ryall reports, and speaks to Gatwick's Chief Commercial Officer, Guy Stephenson

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Fears over safety of Virgin Galactic pilots after test flight failure

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