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Flights from the UK to the US, via space, would be 30 times faster than current commercial flights.Virgin Galactic

A commercial transportation system by Virgin Galactic that goes from one point on Earth to another, through sub-orbital spaceflight, has been proposed by the company's CEO.

Speaking at an event in New York's Museum of Natural History, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said that space could play a crucial role in commercial travel in the future.

"It's complicated, but space, I think, is not only important for the future of transportation. It's also important for the future of imagination," said Whitesides.

"You can imagine a SpaceShipThree or a SpaceShipFour going outside the atmosphere, then coming back down outside an urban area and landing."

A study by Spaceport Associates in 2008 estimated that this form of sub-orbital space travel would be more than 30 times faster than current commercial flights, with a trip from London to New York taking approximately 45 minutes and a flight from London to Sydney taking 90 minutes.

Richard Branson, the chairman of Virgin, has previously expressed an interest in supersonic commercial space travel. In 2003, Virgin offered British Airways £5mn for the five Concorde airplanes still in use, however the deal eventually fell through.

Virgin Galactic and Branson have since discussed the possibility of a supersonic passenger plane, however the use of a spacecraft for Earth-to-Earth travel would represent a significant shift in commercial transportation.

It is an idea that has attracted the interest of the European Space Agency (ESA), with several different methods for "high-altitude, high-speed transport" investigated.

Before such a system can be entertained however, the ESA warns that more research is needed into the commercial and physical viability of such an endeavour.

"Existing medical research will have to be revisited in terms of the ordinary passenger rather than specially-trained astronauts, investigating the maximum acceleration loads that such passengers can undergo without feeling uncomfortable," the ESA said.

If existing problems can be overcome then Whitesides sees no reason for Virgin Galactic not to be at the frontier of a new form of commercial travel.

"We don't have to accept the status quo," Whitesides said. "We can imagine a vehicle using liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen to get us across the Pacific in an hour. You could do that."