Space tourism could become a reality as early as 2021, with Sir Richard Branson acting as a guinea pig passenger, according to Virgin Galactic.
The company, founded by Sir Branson, said on Monday that it “expects to advance to the next phase of its test flight program" this autumn with two manned flights.
"Assuming both flights demonstrate the expected results, Virgin Galactic anticipates Sir Richard Branson's flight to occur in the first quarter of 2021," the company said in a statement.
Virgin Galactic has pushed back the suggested date it will transport the first tourists outside earth’s atmosphere several times.
Yet the demand for its proposed service is clear: the company said 600 people have paid $250,000 (£191,400) to book a seat.
Celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber are reportedly among them.
Sir Branson’s journey would set a path for commercial flights to start, although Virgin Galactic has competition from Blue Origin, the venture from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Virgin Galactic's flights will be on the SpaceshipTwo vehicle, known as VSS Unity, and will hold six passengers.
The company has faced major setbacks, including a crash of Virgin’s suborbital space plane in 2014 that led to the death of one pilot and the injury of another.
However, in June SpaceshipTwo completed its second glide flight test in New Mexico.
A first look at the vessel revealed a series of rounded windows, providing passengers with the opportunity to view earth from various angles. The windows are fitted with multi-colour LEDs to reflect back a variety of colours at different stages of the flight.
To meet customers' desire for photographs and videos of their journey, there are also 16 cameras placed throughout the cockpit and mounted externally.
The vehicle will take off like a plane, attached to another plane or mothership, before detaching from the mothership and rocketing into space from around 45,000 feet. Passengers will be in space for around five minutes, before starting the descent.
SpaceshipTwo will glide to land at Spaceport America, built in the New Mexico desert.
It was also revealed this week that Virgin Galactic has signed up Rolls Royce to design engines for a private jet that will travel at three times the speed of sound, a capability lost with the retirement of Concorde in 2003.