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Space tourism to begin in 2013

Virgin Galactic – Richard Branson’s commercial space tourism venture – has revealed that it is aiming to begin space flights in 2013. Currently, almost 500 people have already signed up to ride on the world’s first spaceliner, paying $200,000 for a ticket on the recently christened Virgin SpaceShip Enterprise.

The Virgin SpaceShip Enterprise on Spaceport America's runway

However, the date is being perceived by some commentators as another delay to the high-profile program, which originally set a rough launch date of 2007, in an interview with the BBC, the firm’s commercial director Stephen Attenborough said that:

“This is a programme that can’t have a hard-end date as safety is number one priority. [However] our foot is flat on the gas, we have proven technology, we have a spaceport that opened last week, and the test flight programme is well advanced.”

Concept imagery of the finished Spaceport America

Mr Attenborough also revealed in the interview that the program had just welcomed its second pilot, Keith Colmer, who will join chief pilot David Mackay. My Colmer, a former Air Force test pilot, has been chosen from more than 500 applicants – many of them former astronauts.

Spaceport America's futuristic terminal building under construction

Sir Richard has previously stated he intends to take the inaugural flight accompanied by his children.