By Rob Coppinger in London

Space Adventures and Virgin Galactic clashed last week over whether or not they were in a race to provide suborbital tourism.

Virgin Galactic is offering trips in its SpaceShipTwo vehicle and expects flights to begin in late 2008. Space Adventures is offering rides on its air-launched five-seater Explorer, which is being designed by the Russian Myasishev design bureau. No development schedule or first flight date has been disclosed for Explorer.

At the UK Royal Aeronautical Society’s space tourism conference, held on 7 June in London, Space Adventures orbital spaceflight vice president Christopher Faranetta retorted, “It is a race. You’re the US-UK team and we’re the US-Russian team.”

Will Whitehorn, Virgin Galactic president, insisted that he was only interested in developing the safest system. However the Virgin company has been irritated by Space Adventures' claims that it will be first to provide a commercial service.

Source: Flight International