Entrepreneur Richard Branson has revealed Virgin Galactic is just 18 months away from offering commercial space travel.
Addressing a business conference in Kuala Lumpur, Branson confirmed the space-tourism branch of the Virgin Group had finished work on SpaceShipTwo, with the first passengers expected to board in early 2012.
The craft – designed by aviation engineer Burt Rutan and designed to carry paying customers into suborbital space – witnessed its maiden flight in March.
“We have just finished building SpaceShipTwo,” said Mr Branson, “we are 18 months away from taking people into space.”
Virgin Galactic, which aims to become the world’s first commercial company to promote space tourism, has already collected $45 million in deposits from more than 330 people who have reserved seats aboard the six-person craft.
Prices for the trips will start at $200,000 – with entertainer Russell Brand among those in line for a flight.
Earlier this month Boeing revealed it was entering the space-tourism race, unveiling plans to take guests to the International Space Station.
Not to be outdone, Branson briefly outlined visions of hotels in space.
“We are looking at hotels in space,” he said, “we love the moon.”
Back down on earth, Virgin has made headlines recently by moving into the – comparatively mundane – American luxury hotel market.