SPACE tourism from Prestwick is a step closer after a US firm at the cutting edge of spaceflight design struck a deal with the Ayrshire base to bring manned launch services to Scotland.

The spaceport has signed a memorandum of understanding with California-based space launch vehicle designer XCOR Aerospace and space plane design and operating company Orbital Access Limited, setting out an action plan for operations at Prestwick.

The move takes it closer to launching manned flights using XCOR's Lynx, a two-seater supersonic spacecraft which is vying with Virgin Galactic to become the first firm to launch sub-orbital passenger flights.

Read more: Prestwick 'leading candidate' for spaceport, says chief executive as he welcomes senior NASA staff to airport

XCOR has already sold more than 200 tickets at $95,000 (£72,000) each for the inaugural flights, which promise give passengers a view of Earth from a gravity-defying altitude of 350,000ft.

The tie-up between XCOR and Glasgow Prestwick comes as the taxpayer-owned airport ramps up its efforts to become the UK's first spaceport, a venture that would also allow it to become a major base for scientific research and satellite launches.

Mike Stewart, business development director at Glasgow Prestwick, said: “We already have the vast majority of the infrastructure in place and with as little as £1million investment we could be up and running.

"Having a pipeline of partners, customers and suppliers in place will be hugely helpful in pulling together the business case for the investment required to get up and running.

“The progress that we are making now that the UK Government has decided to make this a licensing regime rather than a bidding process demonstrates that this was the right decision for the industry and the UK economy.

Read more: Prestwick Airport frontrunner to become Britain's first spaceport

"This has allowed the market to accelerate the process and decide where it feels that launches can be best delivered. We are delighted that Orbital Access and XCOR have decided that the best place for them is Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport and that they are establishing operational bases onsite.”

XCOR president and CEO, Jay Gibson, added: “Strategic aerospace industrial partnerships and strong routes to market characterise our approach to bringing this ground breaking system to fruition.

“Our unique reusable rocket motor technology is at the core of the Lynx and we are looking forward to working with partners in the Scottish aerospace and space sector.”

The collaboration, which is supported by Scottish Enterprise, was unveiled yesterday at Farnborough International Airshow.

Read more: UK spaceport competition axed in favour of licensing model

Stuart McIntyre, the chief executive of Orbital Access, said: “The Lynx represents a highly versatile manned spacecraft to service space research missions in zero gravity, and provide academics and industry with a unique and responsive research environment. It can also support leisure sub-orbital flights.

"This will complement our satellite launch systems, which are in development, and complete the suite of launch services Orbital Access will be offering at spaceports globally.”

The development comes after doubts over the future of the Lynx project when XCOR began laying off US staff involved in designing the spaceplane, which was first announced in 2008.

In March, there were also reports that XCOR might divert resources into other research after it signed a deal with United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed partnership that launches lots of military satellites, to develop a new rocket engine powered by liquid hydrogen.

The prospects for space tourism generally suffered a blow when Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight over the Mojave desert in 2014, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury.