Last week the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a licence extension to Sir Richard Branson-backed Virgin Galactic. It means that the aircraft and rocket combination can now fly commercial passengers into near-space.
This is the first FAA permission needed for Virgin Galactic to carry passengers. Branson has repeatedly promised to be aboard the first non-test flight.
Michael Colglazier, CEO at Virgin Galactic, said, “We’re incredibly pleased with the results of our most recent test flight, which achieved our stated flight test objectives. The flight performed flawlessly, and the results demonstrate the safety and elegance of our flight system. Today’s approval by the FAA of our full commercial launch license, in conjunction with the success of our May 22 test flight, give us confidence as we proceed toward our first fully crewed test flight this summer.”
The May 22nd 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 3rd and reached space at an altitude of 55.5 miles.
There is plenty of speculation that Virgin is in an informal race with Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin business which has set July 20th for its passenger debut. July 20th is the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. The launch will carry six passengers, one of which has paid $28 million for the privilege. Bezos and his brother will be on the flight.