Virgin Galactic to start space flights by the end of the year

Virgin Galatic signed a deal with US aviation authorities to let it blast paying customers into space, the company said Thursday. Commercial flights are to begin by the end of this year and 600 people have already signed up at $250,000 each.

The agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets out how routine space missions from the Spaceport America base in the US state of New Mexico will be coordinated with the normal air traffic control system.

The announcement came hours before Branson’s main rival in the commercial space race was to unveil its latest spacecraft. Elon Musk, CEO and chief designer of SpaceX, was to present his company’s next generation Dragon V2 spacecraft at an event in California this week.