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Branson plans space passenger service

London, Sept. 27 (Reuters): Richard Branson, Britain's best-known entrepreneur and part-time daredevil, plans to launch the world's first passenger service to space in 2007, offering zero-gravity flights for '110,000 ($198,600).

Branson, whose Virgin empire stretches from planes and trains to vodka, music and personal finance, is teaming up with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to build five, fish-shaped capsules for the two- to three-hour flights.

The flights will climb to about 130 km, roughly six times higher than regular commercial planes, and include four minutes of weightlessness, views of the horizon from 1,200 miles away and possibly a gin if granted a liquor licence.

'I'm over the moon,' Branson said today. 'As Richard Branson Astronaut rather than Richard Branson entrepreneur, my wife will find me even harder to live with.'

Branson, whose headline-grabbing stunts have included attempts to fly around the world in a balloon or speed across the Atlantic in a powerboat, said he planned to take the inaugural flight on the 'VSS Enterprise'.

Virgin Galactic will be the latest offshoot of Branson's business empire, which started in mail-order recorded music in the 1970s. It will invest $100 million in ground infrastructure and spacecraft capable of carrying five passengers.

Branson said he planned to use the proceeds from the first well-heeled customers to bring prices down in the next few years to make space travel affordable to regular tourists.

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