Virgin Galactic continues its march toward bringing space tourism to the (wealthy) masses and is reportedly putting the finishing touches on SpaceShipTwo, the vehicle that will take adventurous, and well heeled, travelers into sub-orbit. According to this story from the Telegraph, test flights are scheduled to begin in early 2010, with regular flights getting underway in 2012.
SpaceShipTwo is the second stage of a planned orbital delivery system. The first stage, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo, has been conducting test flights for a year, and will carry the smaller craft up to 50,000 feet. Upon reaching that altitude, SpaceShipTwo will detach and engage its own rocket engines, which will propel its passengers up to the edge of space at speeds exceeding Mach 3. Once there, the rockets will cut out, and those on board will have the opportunity to experience true weightlessness for s a brief time.
According to Virgin Galactic, more than 300 people have already payed the $200,000 ticket price to take the flight. Presumably that will include luggage fees that are all the rage with the airlines these days. Another 82,000 have expressed interest in taking future flights as well.
It appears that 2012 will be a milestone year for space tourism, as that is when the first space hotel is scheduled to open its doors too. Of course, the combined cost of hopping a flight on Virgin Galactic and spending a few days in that hotel will set you back a cool $4.6 million, but the view will be spectacular.