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Concept Vehicle: Land Rover shoots for the moon

Land Rover reveals its Discovery Vision Concept vehicle and announces its partnership with Virgin Galactic at The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on April 14, 2014 in New York City.

Brian Ach/Getty Images for Land Rover

Land Rover unveiled its Discovery Vision Concept SUV under the stars on Monday – and in the shadow of a replica of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft that will bring them closer for some well-heeled space customers.

The off-road SUV company announced that it will become the first global partner of the Virgin Galactic spaceline, with Land Rover vehicles to be used at the company's base camp in New Mexico over four days of training and space flight preparation. The $250,000 (U.S.) experience culminates with a two-hour flight into sub-orbital space, with about six minutes of those being weightless, said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic president and CEO, at the Discovery Concept's debut in advance of its New York International Auto Show unveiling.

"Our machines offer about 70,000 pounds of thrust, so you're going from about 150 mph (240 km/h) to Mach 4 in about four seconds," Whitesides said of his firm's high-tech SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise. A full-size replica of the six-passenger spacecraft was on display for Land Rover's space-centric show at the air and space museum on board the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier, which also houses the decommissioned space shuttle Enterprise, as well as a supersonic British Airways Concorde.

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The Discovery Concept is technologically advanced but not radically shaped, which Phil Popham, Jaguar Land Rover group marketing director, said is a concept that will form the basis of a new family of Discovery models in 2015. The current Discovery is called the LR4 in North America, but all indications suggest that the Discovery name will go global in 2015.

There are no exterior door handles on the Discovery Concept – the suicide doors open by hand gestures. Hand gestures also control interior functions such as turn signals, headlamps and the seatback screens.

The Discovery Concept's laser headlights are not only brighter, they have cameras that sense oncoming vehicles for automatic high-beam dipping. Its fog lights have ground mapping capability, emitting laser-like images on the road ahead – such as triangle warning symbols – to help the driver avoid potential trouble. They can also project lasers onto walls or other cars to help the driver manoeuvre in tight quarters.

The glass, including the windshield and panoramic sunroof, is smart glass, which can project images onto any glass surface, or adjust the brightness inside. It allows Land Rover to offer a "transparent bonnet," which uses cameras underneath the grille to project an image of the upcoming terrain on the windshield in a way that appears to make the hood see-through.

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