Sir Richard Branson’s plans to put tourists in space moved a step closer on Monday when Virgin Galactic  unveiled its WhiteKnightTwo ‘mothership’.

Virgin Galactic mothership WhiteKnightTwo

The aircraft is designed to carry a smaller SpaceShipTwo – with six passengers and two crew aboard – to a height of 50.000 feet. From there the smaller shuttle will blast off to an altitude of 70 miles.

More than 250 people have paid deposits of £100,000 for a seat, with the first commercial flight due next year.