After the successful test of a private spaceship designed to take "the rest of us into space," Virgin Galactic says it may begin offering commercial space flights as soon as early next year.

On Monday, Virgin's SpaceShipTWO (SS2) performed a landmark test. The rocket-powered space plane was carried by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft to an altitude of about 14,000 metres, then released. The SS2's rocket engine fired up and the ship reached Mach 1.2 during a 16-second engine burn before returning safely to Earth.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides described the test flight as "perfect."

"It was a really magical moment for everyone because we've been working on this program for several years now and it's not always easy to get these things to go well, but the flight was just perfect from our perspective," Whitesides told CTV's Canada AM from Pasadena, New Mexico.

"The rocket motor initiated well and we had a smooth acceleration past Mach 1 into a supersonic flight and it just went the way you would hope, so it was a fantastic morning," Whitesides told CTV's Canada AM from Pasadena, New Mexico.

The flight went so well, he said, that Virgin may be able to send paying customers into space sooner than planned. The company plans to conduct increasingly longer engine burn rocket tests over the next year, leading up to its first sub-orbital space flight by the end of the year.

Soon after that, Whitesides hopes to start strapping passengers into the SS2 -- at around $200,000 a head -- and sending them into space. More than 500 people have already signed up.

He said the company's hope is to make space accessible to "the rest of us" -- not just a select group of astronauts who spend years training to visit the cosmos.

"Everybody wants to go to space," Whitesides said.

"In general, people love the idea of being able to look down on our planet or look out on the Milky Way, so as soon as this company was announced, people started saying they would love to participate. What's interesting is that in all of human history only about 530 people have been to space and we've now got about 570 signed up to fly on Virgin Galactic and we should be able to fly those people in about a year or two."

"So it's going to radically open up space for the rest of us."

While there may be no free nuts, in-flight movies or helpful flight attendants in return for the $200,000 ticket, passengers will receive three days of training at Virgin Galactic's facility in southern New Mexico.

Early on the fourth day, they will head out to the tarmac and take off with five other passengers and two pilots. The flight will last about two-and-a-half hours "and in true Virgin fashion we'll throw a big party at the end," Whitesides said.