Sir Richard Branson has said he has sold 700 tickets for trips on his Virgin Galactic spaceflights and reckons he will be ready to launch within a “matter of months”.

The billionaire founder of the Virgin Group told the Institute of Director’s annual convention that the ticket sales, which reportedly cost $200,000 (£125,000) each, have helped fund the project to the late stages.

Sir Richard said the space flights would be only three hours long to keep the costs down. But he has grand plans for the venture, including launching a space hotel for people to go and stay for holidays. Asked if he had launched the company because he had “exhausted all the excitement on earth,” Sir Richard said he had wanted to go to space ever since watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon in 1969. But knowing that NASA would never send ordinary people into orbit, he decided to launch his own space tourism company.

He said he believed the “vast majority” of people would like to go to space – “if we could guarantee a return ticket,” he joked. “Only 500 people have ever been to space,” he said. “We’ll put the same number up in the first year.”

Sir Richard said he would not have been able to expand Virgin if the group had remained listed on the stockmarket. He said he didn’t want to “criticise the City” but said there was a biased towards specialist companies and against varied businesses like Virgin. He argued that investors and analysts would not have supported his expansion from record to planes to space but argued the company would have failed without diversifying.

Sir Richard, who on Sunday secured a Guinness World Record with 318 others for forming the largest parade of kitesurfers, said he had had “magnificent adventures” that had “enriched his life.”

Photo Credit: File photo of entrepreneur Branson waving a model of the LauncherOne cargo spacecraft from a window of an actual size model of SpaceShipTwo on display, after Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne announcement and news conference, at the Farnborough Airshow 2012. Luke Macgregor / Reuters