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Virgin Galactic Planetary

Earlier this year, SpaceShipOne, a commercial space flight venture backed by Paul Allen, tried for the skies, aiming to qualify for the Ansari X prize. The team is trying again early tomorrow — and now they’re joined by a leader who may not be able to make it around the world in a hot-air balloon, but who may be just what the world needs to commercialize passenger space flight.

Brand master Richard Branson (October issue access code needed) has signed on with Allen and SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan to develop a series of five-passenger rocket ships that will blast 80 miles into the atmosphere for zero-grav flights lasting several hours. Reaching about six times higher than commercial airplanes fly, the trips will run amateur astronauts almost $200,000 for a round-trip ticket.

Update: Branson also just announced the launch (pun intended) of the Virgin Digital Megastore, which will offer more than 1 million songs for download — and use with about 50 devices. Now folks will have something to listen to as they rocket into space.

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