Scaled Composites White Knight Two flyover, Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has its sights set on flying tourists to space within the next year, announcing a $1.5 billion merger and plans to become the first publicly-listed space tourism company Tuesday.

“We’re going to be starting commercial operations within a year from now,” the combined company’s new chairman Chamath Palihapitiya told CNBC Tuesday.

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Virgin Galactic, which completed a pair of manned spaceflights in the past year, announced a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp.

“Today, we became more formidable still, by announcing that Virgin Galactic, along with its sister manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company, has taken a huge step towards becoming the very first publicly listed human spaceflight company and therefore available to equity investors,” Branson wrote in a press release published Tuesday.

The executives also pointed out that there’s been a tremendous demand for the spaceflights.

“Since we put two spaceships into space earlier this year, and made five new astronauts – the first astronauts to have been made on American soil since 2009 – we’ve had 2,500 people ask to sign up. The market is enormous,” Branson told CNBC.

“We have a customer backlog of more than 600 people, more than $80 million in collected deposits already,” added Palihapitiya. The company projects to be profitable by August 2021.

The $250,000 flights will transport travelers at over three times the speed of sound and feature four minutes of weightlessness at the edge of space. Branson expects the cost of the spaceflights to come down in the years to come. “Ten years from now we should see quite a dramatic decrease in our prices,” he said.