Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson has taken his latest step towards making commercial space travel a reality.
The British entrepreneur, who has long talked about his dream of sending paying tourists into the sub-orbit, has set up The Spaceship Company with aviation legend Burt Rutan.
Over the next two and a half years, the company will build five spaceships, each capable of carrying seven passengers.
Codenamed SpaceShipTwo (SS2), the new craft will be based on the design of the privately-funded SpaceShipOne (SS1), which successfully flew into space twice in one week last October.
SS1, also designed by Burt Rutan, claimed the £5.6 million X-prize which was offered to anyone who achieved such a feat.
Under the new agreement, The Spaceship Company will own the design of SS2 and its launch system known as White Knight Two. Both models are currently under development at Mr Rutan's company base, Scaled Composites, in the Mojave Desert in California.
Sir Richard's space venture, Virgin Galactic, will take receipt of the first two launch systems and five spacecraft to be built. The company will be the first to offer flights in space to the public.
For £115,000, passengers will rocket 62 miles (100km) above the ground and experience re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Each space adventure is expected to last about two hours and those on board will be weightless for approximately five minutes.
Around 28,000 people from 118 different countries have already registered an interest, according to Virgin Galactic.
Sir Richard, who has made much of the fact that his family will accompany him on the first flight, including his daughter Holly, son Sam and elderly father, said: "It is a very exciting prospect for the future. I have always dreamed about space flight but I never thought we would end up building them as well."
Source the press association