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Firms developing sat launch device
Two British firms are looking into developing a rocket capable of putting small satellites in orbit, it has been revealed.
Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) and Sir Richard Branson's space travel venture Virgin Galactic want to build a device that can be launched from an aircraft and carry satellites hundreds of miles above the earth's surface.
The concept would be similar to the US Pegasus system, which uses a regular aeroplane to launch a rocket into orbit.
Virgin Galactic, which was set up by Sir Richard to take passengers on short, weightless trips in space, features a carrier jet known as WhiteKnightTwo. It is intended to lift the space tourists' rocket plane up to launch height.
But SSTL and Virgin Galactic are working on the idea of using the aircraft as a platform to release a British satellite launcher.
Dr Adam Baker from SSTL said he was looking at developing a device that could take a payload of at least 50kg into an orbit with a minimum altitude of 400km (248 miles). The service could then be sold on the open market.
He said: "Hopefully we can do it for a lot less money than the current providers.
"It costs something like five million to 10 million dollars at the moment to get one of our smaller satellites into space. What we are targeting is to see if we can do this for a million dollars.
"I think that's a very challenging number but I'm confident we can get very close to that - and if you could build the satellite itself for a couple of million dollars, all of a sudden you've got a very attractive package for well under five million dollars that lets your customers do something pretty capable in orbit."
SSTL makes earth monitoring satellites which can map the planet during emergencies. It is owned by Europe's biggest space company, EADS Astrium.