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Commercial space flights to be available by the end of 2020, Virgin Galactic's new boss says

People will be taken into space on commercial flights by the end of 2020, according to the new boss at Virgin Galactic.

But with increasing concerns about climate change, there are question marks over the project's environmental impact.

Spaceport America, situated in the New Mexico desert, bills itself as the world's first commercially-built space port, where paying customers will be able to travel from the NZ$339 million port into space in one of five spacecraft, the BBC reports.

The tickets don't come cheap, however, with one ticket costing NZ$379,504 for a 90-minute flight. Six hundred people have already signed up.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides dismissed concerns over the flights' effect on climate change, comparing the average flight's CO2 emissions "around that of a business class flight from New York to the UK."

"There's an awareness of our planet documented scientifically with astronauts – they come back changed with the greater realisation of the fragility of our ecosystem and ecosphere," he said.

However, University of Oxford astrophysicist Becky Smethurst was perplexed over the need to travel into space to understand the damage being done to the planet.

"The fact that they have to go that far into space, above the planet, to have that emotion of feeling protective over the world that they live in is sort of ridiculous," she said.

"But you have to put it into perspective of the fact that space travel is very limited in how much it actually contributes to CO2 emissions in comparison to aircraft. It’s a tiny fraction of what aircraft put out there."

Virgin Galactic is joined in the space race by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk's SpaceX.