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KLM airline backing Curacao space-flight venture

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is partnering with a commercial suborbital space-flight venture planning to operate out of the Caribbean island of Curacao, officials said on Thursday.

KLM, a division of Europe's largest airline, Air France-KLM, has purchased "a few" tickets for suborbital spaceflights through Space Experience Curacao, a private venture backed by two Dutch entrepreneurs that plans to operate a two-seater Lynx suborbital spaceship being developed by XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, California.

"We're enthusiastic about this," Gedi Schrijver, a spokeswoman for the airline, told Reuters.

She declined to be more specific about the number of tickets purchased by KLM bought or how they would be used. The advertised price for rides on a Lynx are $95,000. One person rides alongside the pilot.

A news release, jointly issued by XCOR and Space Experience Curacao, said KLM plans to offer suborbital spaceflights for frequent flyer mileage redemptions and in vacation packages.

Space Experience Curacao announced last month its intention to lease a Lynx suborbital spacecraft, pending U.S. government approvals for the vehicle to be located on the island of Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles. Commercial spaceflights are scheduled to be in January 2014. XCOR would provide operational support at the proposed Space Port Curacao.

A similar service, backed by billionaire Richard Branson's London-based Virgin Group, is setting up commercial space operations in New Mexico.

Mojave, California-based Scaled Composites, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corp, has begun test flights of a six-passenger, two-pilot suborbital spaceship it built for aspiring space line operator Virgin Galactic, which has collected more than $50 million in deposits for rides that cost $200,000 per person.

Both ventures will offer passengers a few minutes of weightlessness beyond Earth's atmosphere and a view of the planet from a vantage point of about 65 miles above ground.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Steve Orlofsky)

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