Virgin Galactic Receives License To Test Space Plane

Image courtesy of Virgin Galactic

Weeks after Virgin Galactic said it would resume ground tests of its commercial spacecraft designed to take tourists into space, the company officially received the green light from the Federal Aviation Administration in the way of a license allowing it to conduct test flights.

Virgin Galactic received the license this week that allows it to test if SpaceShipTwo is capable of carrying paying customers safely above Earth, The Verge reports.

“We’ve still got a bit more work to do before [SpaceShipTwo] takes to the skies, but this effectively means that when we feel ready to start flying, we can start flying,” Will Pomerantz, vice president for special projects at Virgin Galactic said, noting that the company doesn’t have any immediate plans to take flight. “The key permissions are in place.”

SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s newest version of its commercial spacecraft, is designed to have a crew of two and carry up to six passengers on a sub-orbital flight that reaches the edge of space, at an altitude of more than 62 miles.

The company is slated to finish ground tests in August before moving on to testing the ship in the skies while attached to the aircraft, executives with Virgin Galactic said last month.

Unlike traditional rocket-powered spacecraft that launch vertically, SpaceShipTwo is carried to a certain altitude by a four-engine aircraft carrier. Once it reaches a certain distance, it is released and lingers in space for a few minutes, before returning.

Virgin Galactic said last month that it has 700 bookings at $250,000 a ticket, but there was no date yet for the first commercial flight.

“We’ve thrown out so many dates in the past that we weren’t able to keep to, we’re being a bit more conservative this time,” officials with the company said.

The first SpaceShipTwo broke apart in October 2014 during its fourth-rocket powered flight, when the co-pilot prematurely activated a system used to slow down and stabilize the craft as it re-enters the atmosphere. The co-pilot was killed, but the pilot parachuted to safety.

Since then, a National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that a company that was working on the rocket with Virgin Galactic and was responsible for its test program should have had systems to compensate for human error.

Virgin Galactic has now assumed full responsibility to complete the test program, the company said in February.

Virgin Galactic gets FAA license to start flight-testing its spaceplane [The Verge]

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