Clad in designer jeans, black leather jacket, and white shirt open at the collar, a characteristically ebullient Sir Richard Branson bounded onto the stage inside an airy hangar at the San Antonio airport on Thursday. After scanning the audience for a moment, he turned his back to the crowd and stared up at the large 747-400 aircraft behind him. “My God,” he said. “It’s fantastic.”

For the first time, Virgin Galactic has revealed the aircraft it intends to use to boost small satellites weighting up to 450kg into orbit, perhaps before the end of 2017. Branson, the charismatic founder of the company, said he hoped that by bringing down the cost of satellite launches he could enable global satellite Internet and bring connectivity to the more than 3 billion people without access to the Web.

Ars was on hand during the reveal, which showcased the aircraft now destined to carry the “LauncherOne” rocket to an altitude of 35,000 feet before releasing it at a 25-degree upward angle. The rocket's Newton 3 engine will then blast its payload into any number of possible orbits around the Earth. Virgin Galactic assessed a variety of aircraft before settling on a 14-year-old 747 from its own fleet nicknamed “Cosmic Girl.” That airplane continued to fly normal routes until October 23, most frequently carrying passengers from London’s Heathrow to JFK in New York City to San Francisco.

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