Kiruna in Sweden looks set for the start of European space tourism in 2012. Five Nordic travel agencies will now sell tickets for launches at Kiruna and also New Mexico.
The Swedish spaceport has been driving forward with its contacts with Virgin Galactic over the past two years. They've been working on numerous practical matters, from weather conditions and flight profiles to infrastructure and regulatory framework.
Kiruna has been launching balloons and rockets since the 1960s, carrying out experiments and making measurements for scientists all over the world. Earlier this year Kiruna signed a collaborative agreement with Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Strong support for the Kiruna development has come from the local tourist industry, with the Icehotel in Jukkasjarvi being a partner in Spaceport Sweden
A number of Virgin Galactic's future space travellers have been taken by the Icehotel on a special visit to Kiruna. They slept there in beds covered with reindeer skins, saw a rocket launch, searched for the Northern Lights, visited a local Sami family, and went by dog-sled to a wilderness camp for dinner over an open fire.
The tourism infrastructure is seen as a key element by Spaceport Sweden. 'We expect that if one person in a family that comes up here wants to fly into space, maybe other family members will sign up for other experiences,' says a spokesperson.
Swedes, Finns and Danes are among the nearly 300 people who have already signed up for the Virgin Galactic flights.
And the Icehotel says it will start including tickets for Virgin Galactic's space trips in its offerings to tourists. A spokesman said this week that visitors will be able to chose whether to go through the winter season's aurora borealis or the midnight sun of Swedish summer.
Meanwhile it's being suggested that the third test flight of Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo mothership is imminent, and likely to take place from the Mojave Air and Space Port this coming week.