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Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated the speed of SpaceShipTwo and the number of customers Virgin has lined up for travel.

Inside Access, only on CNN Business, goes behind the scenes of the world’s most innovative companies. The multimedia series went inside Richard Branson’s Virgin empire and premiered live from Mojave, California, on November 30, 2018.

(CNN Business) —  

Richard Branson says Virgin Galactic is on the verge of a major achievement: It will send astronauts into space by Christmas.

The billionaire entrepreneur told CNN Business’ Rachel Crane this week he is “pretty confident” his space tourism venture can achieve its milestone by the end of the year.

“We have a brilliant group of astronauts who literally believe 100% in the project, and give it their everything,” he said.

The first few trips to space will be flown by test pilots without anyone else on board. Branson says he will be the first passenger. Eventually, paying tourists will also make the trip.

“I’m not allowed up until the [test pilots] have broken it in a few times, first,” he said. “I would love to have gone on this very [first] flight, but [pilots] are incredibly brave people.”