THE Virgin Galactic crash will not hinder efforts to establish Europe's first commercial spaceport in the UK, with a likely base in Scotland, a Government spokesman has said, as Sir Richard Branson vowed to continue his space tourism enterprise.

The pilot killed in the crash was last night named as 39-year-old Michael Alsbury. The second pilot, who was seriously injured, has not yet been named.

The fatal test flight explosion over the Mojave desert in California came as a report on the future of Prestwick Airport pinned hopes of economic resurgence for the ailing base on a successful bid as the UK's first spaceport.

The UK Government has already entered talks with the US Government to pave the way for future commercial transatlantic spaceflights and is determined to establish Europe's first spaceport in the UK by 2018. Prestwick was shortlisted among eight potential sites - six of them in Scotland - to locate a launchpad for sub-orbital tourist flights. In a report published by the Scottish Government on Friday, the possibility of securing spaceport status was described as a "catalyst for transformational change". It has been estimated that if scientists could master the technology for commercial spaceflight, holidaymakers could cross the Atlantic from Scotland to New York in around 45 minutes - the time it currently takes to commute by train from Glasgow to Edinburgh.

The failure of Virgin Galactic's test flight on Friday has been seen as a major blow to Branson's space tourism project, coming on the back of successive delays to its inaugural passenger flight, which was originally due for take-off in 2007.

The incident has also raised questions about the viability of commercial spaceflight.

However, the Department for Transport said the Virgin Galactic tragedy would not derail its plans for a UK spaceport. "Our thoughts are with the families affected by this," said a spokesman for the DfT. "But it has not affected our overall plans. This is a sector we wish to encourage. These are very early days, as we all know. But it will be part of future travel at some point."

The shortlisted spaceport sites are in the process of compiling and submitting bids, with the winner expected to be announced at some point next year.

Besides Prestwick, Campbeltown Airport, Kinloss Barracks, RAF Leuchars, RAF Lossiemouth and Stornoway Airport are in the running, alongside Newquay Cornwall Airport in England and Llanbedr Airport in Wales.

Speaking of the spaceport bid, Glasgow Prestwick chief executive Iain Cochrane said: "We satisfy - and in some cases exceed - all the essential criteria such as infrastructure, weather and airspace, and securing spaceport status would be the catalyst for transformational change at the airport - from boosting revenue from space-related flight testing, establishing an attractive modernised hi-tech image and bringing in visitors and tourists. It will also bring significant economic benefits to both Ayrshire and Scotland. Our team is therefore firmly focused on winning the bid."

The Scottish Government bought the loss-making airport for £1 in 2013 and has vowed to return it to profitability, but has faced the challenge of Ryanair - its only passenger airline - cutting flights.

Meanwhile, Branson said he would persevere with his space tourism venture despite the "devastating loss" on Friday. Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket was said yesterday to have "suffered a serious anomaly" minutes after it was released by the WhiteKnightTwo jet, which carried it to altitude. It was the first time the rocket had been flown using a new fuel formulation.

Branson said: "We've always known that the road to space is extremely difficult. Space is hard - but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together."

Former Nasa astronaut Leroy Chiao said: "This is a serious setback. I want to stress in this case this was a development programme of a new spacecraft and in the history of developing high-performance aircraft and spacecraft, the risks are higher than operational vehicles so mishaps like this do occur.

"As for the impact on commercial space, we will get through this."

Virgin Galactic has been the frontrunner in the race to send paying customers into space and Branson said last month that he hoped to travel with his son on the first flight next spring.

Seats have been sold for over £150,000, with physicist Stephen Hawking, singer Justin Bieber, and Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie among the ticket-holders.