Virgin Galactic has gained the official blessing from the US aviation safety regulator to fly people to outer space.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has “updated the Company’s existing commercial space transportation operator license to allow the spaceline to fly customers to space,” Richard Branson’s space venture announced on Friday.
Virgin Galactic has received very little coverage of the emerging space tourism market, compared to the likes of Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin, and Elon Musk and SpaceX.
But Virgin Galactic has been developing its spacecraft for space tourists for over a decade now and its first commercial flight is expected this year.
In 2014 venture capitalists Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss used a part of their Bitcoin hoard to buy themselves a ride on a Virgin Galactic spaceship, when it begins operations.
A single ticket for Branson’s SpaceShipTwo costs $250,000, and takes the passengers to nearly nearly 300,000 feet above planet Earth (or 89km or 55 miles), where they can experience weightlessness during a brief suborbital flight.
Now Virgin Galactic has announced the FAA updated its existing commercial space transportation operator license to allow the ‘spaceline’ to fly customers to space.
It comes after the company successfully completed a 22 May test flight, and an analysis of the data found the flight performed well against all flight objectives.
Virgin Galactic’s said the FAA’s adjustment to its operator’s license, which it has held since 2016, marks the first time the FAA has licensed a spaceline to fly customers.
“We’re incredibly pleased with the results of our most recent test flight, which achieved our stated flight test objectives,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic.
“The flight performed flawlessly, and the results demonstrate the safety and elegance of our flight system,” said Colglazier. “Today’s approval by the FAA of our full commercial launch license, in conjunction with the success of our 22 May test flight, give us confidence as we proceed toward our first fully crewed test flight this summer.”
The May 22 test flight of VMS Eve and VSS Unity was the Company’s third crewed spaceflight and the first-ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico.
The flight achieved a speed of Mach 3 and reached space at an altitude of 55.5 miles.
It should be noted that Virgin Galactic’s approach to space differs from that of SpaceX and Blue Origin, which both use reusable rockets that are launched from the earth’s surface.
The Blue Origin flight costs dramatically more money, but it goes past the Kármán line, the 62-mile-high boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, in a flight that will last just 11 minutes.
Jeff Bezos and his brother are to go on the first Blue Origin flight on 20 July.
Virgin Galactic on the other hand launches a jet-powered glider from White Knight Two, which is a quadjet cargo aircraft, to get its passengers to 55 miles above planet Earth, which the US recognises as outer space.
A video of a Virgin Galactic test flight can be found here, and it shows the flight reaching what many would consider to be outer space.
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