Virgin Galactic has become the first company to receive the “Full Commercial Launch License” from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow the spaceline to fly customers to space. The space tourism company can now begin transporting commercial passengers to space aboard its VSS spacecraft.
The expansion of the space tourism company’s existing commercial space transportation operator license of 2016 comes nearly a month after the successful test flight of its SpaceShip two spaceplane. The company had repeatedly postponed the launch to rectify technical faults.
The initial FAA license of 2016 had granted Virgin Galactic permission to fly professional test pilots and astronauts to space using its spaceplane.
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.
The flight successfully carried three revenue-generating research experiments that tested and demonstrated technologies in microgravity as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. The pilots flew VSS Unity on a specific trajectory designed to meet the objectives of these research experiments.
Virgin Galactic also noted that it has completed an extensive review of data gathered from its May 22 test flight and confirmed that the flight performed well against all flight objectives. It will now proceed to prepare for the remaining three test flights, including the first fully crewed test flight this summer.
The company’s methodical testing program has also met the verification and validation criteria required by the FAA.
The company is looking to provide regular two hour space flights for tourists and researchers to suborbital space, with an experience that includes unparalleled views of Earth and a few minutes of weightless during the trip.
Virgin Galactic will require a couple of other approvals from the FAA to finally begin its actual regular space flights for paying customers. It will require to complete the final three test flights with a full crew to receive the approvals.
Reports earlier in the month suggested that Virgin Galactic founder and billionaire Sir Richard Branson is expected to fly on the next test flight that it might occur as early as the coming July 4 weekend. He could beat Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos to become one of the first civilians to travel to space.
Bezos, the world’s richest man, along with his brother Mark Bezos, another crew and an auction winner are to embark on the journey on July 20 aboard the New Shepard spacecraft, which is made by Jeff’s aerospace company Blue Origin. The rocket system has taken more than a dozen successful unmanned flights.
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