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PARIS — European aerospace company EADS unveiled yesterday a model of a jet designed to take tourists into space, rocketing paying passengers to weightlessness 100 kilometers (62.14 miles) above the earth's surface.
EADS Astrium said it hoped the space jet — which looks much like a conventional aircraft though it is outfitted with rocket engines — will be operational by next year, with the first flight scheduled for 2012.
Tickets are expected to sell for $200,000 to $265,000, said the company, which presented a full-scale model of the craft in Paris.
The space jet would take off from regular airports using conventional jet engines. Upon reaching an altitude of about 7.5 miles, the pilot would ignite the rocket engines, sending the craft shooting to an altitude of 37 miles in 80 seconds.
The engines would then be shut down and inertia would carry the craft to its final altitude. There, passengers would be able to gaze down on earth and experience weightlessness for three minutes.
Only four passengers would travel on each hour and a half-long flight, the company said.
The craft would be equipped with special balancing seats to reduce the powerful effect of takeoff and landing.
Astrium head Francois Auque told reporters the company expects to secure several hundred million dollars in funding for the project by the end of the year. The bulk of the money is to come from private investors, although governments, like that of the southern German state of Bavaria, where the engines are to be produced, may also take part, the company said.
"We are counting on some 20,000 space tourists by the year 2020," said Auque. "We want to serve a third of them. We have faith in this market."
Space tourism is expanding exponentially, with several entrepreneurs, including British billionaire Richard Branson, announcing plans to launch space tourism companies.
EADS Astrium builds the Ariane rocket, which puts many of the world's commercial satellites into orbit.