Richard Branson
Richard Branson denied reports of an explosion caused SpaceShipTwo to crashGetty

Richard Branson is "absolutely confident" Virgin Galactic will send tourists to space despite the "massive setback" of SpaceShipTwo crashing on 31 October.

One pilot died and another was seriously injured when the $500m (£312m, €400m) spacecraft experienced a serious "in-flight anomoly" during a test flight in California.

The craft was about 45 minutes into the flight and was flying at about 50,000ft when it experienced difficulties.

Reports at the weekend claimed Virgin Galactic was beset with difficulties and the SpaceShipTwo project was unsafe.

But the The Virgin Group boss defended his companies' safety record and reaffirmed his commitment to start commercial flights to outer space.

"I am absolutely confident that Virgin Galactic will go up and it will be something extremely important for Great Britain," Branson told BBC News.

Asked about claims of concerns over safety, Branson said "safety is all consuming for Virgin."

He clarified there had been no explosion on SpaceShipTwo, adding it reports were "hurtful" to Virgin Galactic engineers

"If you go back and read the Sunday press, you now realise there was no rocket explosion, no fuel tank explosion. It was all garbage," he said staunchly.

"If any of our rocket engineers thought something was not safe to go, we would not go."

Branson was speaking after the The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that a pilot error could have caused the SpaceShipTwo crash.

US investigators believe that shortly before the crash co-pilot Michael Tyner Alsbury changed the aero-dynamic controls, resulting in the spacecraft's tail prematurely.

NTSB acting chairman Christopher Hart told journalists "pilot error is a possibility," before adding investigators were "a long way from finding cause."