Virgin Galactic, a company within Richard Branson's Virgin Group, is expected to conduct the first test-flight of its spacecraft beyond Earth's atmosphere this year.
As per reported details, following the test flight, the commercial suborbital passenger service will start in 2013 or 2014.
Over 430 individuals have already signed up for the space venture aboard SpaceShipTwo, which has room for two crew and six passengers. Each individual will have to pay $200,000 for the privilege of experiencing approximately six minutes of weightlessness in sub-orbital space during what will be a two-hour end-to-end flight.
SpaceShipTwo has been developed by The Spaceship Company which is a California-based joint venture between Scaled Composites and the Virgin Group. The vehicle will be carried to its launch altitude by a mothership, the Scaled Composites White Knight Two, before being launched to fly on into the upper atmosphere, powered by a rocket motor.
In the suborbital area, there are a lot of things to be done. This is an area that has been essentially absent for about four decades, Reuters quoted Neil Armstrong, who was the test pilot for the 1960s-era X-15 research plane before becoming a U.S. astronaut and commander of the first mission to land on the moon, as saying.
Currently, there are numerous other companies actively working on commercial passenger suborbital spaceflight. However, Virgin Galactic is the most visible of a handful of companies developing spaceships for commercial and research purposes.
The spaceship was officially unveiled to the public on Dec. 7, 2009, at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and is currently undergoing flight-testing, having conducted 16 successful gliding flight tests as of October 2011.