Amateur astronauts itching to join the 62-mile-high club already know they'll need deep pockets. But at least they can pencil in a date for a commercial flight into space now that Virgin Galactic says it'll be ready for launch next year.

The news that the first spaceflights should happen in 2009 came yesterday at the New York unveiling of models of SpaceShipTwo and its mother-ship launcher airplane WhiteKnightTwo.

Far from cheap

Richard Branson's latest venture will charge $200,000 (£100,000) for a 2.5-hour flight that includes just five minutes above 62 miles - the distance from the Earth's surface at which space begins.

So far, over 200 people have reserved seats by paying at least the 10 per cent deposit. As expected, these include high-profile folk like Stephen Hawking, as well as a fair sprinkling of rich industrialists.

Space within reach

Branson admitted the price would have to drop in future, saying: "$200,000 is still too expensive for the majority of people. Within five years of launching, I would hope the price would come down fairly dramatically."