Sir Richard Branson has said that Virgin Galactic 'stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry'

Credit: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

Sir Richard Branson is set to beat Jeff Bezos into space onboard a Virgin Galactic test flight later this month. 

The billionaire entrepreneur will travel to the edge of space on his space tourism company’s scheduled flight on July 11, the company confirmed on Thursday.

A successful flight by Sir Richard aboard Virgin’s VSS Unity space plane would mark a key milestone in a race to usher in a new era of private commercial space travel.

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity is released from its mothership, VMS Eve, during its space flight earlier this year

Credit: Virgin Galactic/REUTERS

It would also mean that Sir Richard would travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere ahead of Mr Bezos, the founder of rival space tourism venture Blue Origin.

Mr Bezos, who founded retail giant Amazon, is scheduled to fly to space on July 20 along with his brother Mark, the trailblazing female pilot Wally Funk and a currently unidentified person who paid $28 million to join the suborbital journey.

It was reported only last month that Sir Richard was considering a show-stealing mission just days ahead of Mr Bezos’ planned trip.

The race, which also includes Elon Musk, the chief executive of SpaceX, is underpinned by optimism that space travel will become mainstream as nascent technology is proven and costs fall, fuelling what UBS estimates could be a $3 billion annual tourism market by 2030. Mr Musk has not set a date for his space flight.

"Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good," Sir Richard said ahead of the voyage.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of rival space tourism venture Blue Origin, is scheduled to fly to space on July 20

Credit: Clodagh Kilcoyne/REUTERS

Sir Richard’s July 11 mission will be the 22nd flight test for VSS Unity, and the company’s fourth crewed space flight, Virgin said.

But it will be the first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four "mission specialists", including Sir Richard.

Two additional test flights are planned before Virgin expects to begin commercial service in 2022, the company said.