Virgin Galactic gets FAA approval for commercial passenger space flights

Virgin Galactic gets FAA approval for commercial passenger space flights
Company has three more test flights planned before flying with its paying customers

Virgin Galactic has been granted approval by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly paying customers to space.

The share price of Richard Branson’s company jumped by 35 per cent after it announced it had been granted the license it needed for commercial passengers.

“The commercial license that we have had in place since 2016 remains in place, but is now cleared to allow us to carry commercial passengers when we’re ready to do so,” said Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier.

“This is obviously an exciting milestone and a huge compliment to the team.”

So far four pilots, and the company’s chief astronaut trainer Beth Moses, are the only people to take part in the test flights.

All of them have been recognised by the FAA as astronauts as US officials view an altitude of 80 kilometers, or around 50 miles, above the Earth as the boundary of space.

Virgin Galactic already has 600 ticket reservations for flights from its New Mexico base, costing between $200,000 and $250,000 each.

The company has already completed three test flights and has another three to come.

Its next space flight will carry four passengers as a test of the Unity spacecraft’s cabin, and the second will have Mr Branson on board.

The third and final test flight will carry members of the Italian Air Force on it for astronaut training.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has announced that he would be onboard Blue Origin’s first space flight on 20 July, and it has been speculated that Mr Branson might move up his flight to beat his rival into space.

Mr Colglazier said that Virgin Galactic would now be shifting its flight programme to demonstrate “the cabin experience”.

“I know there’s a lot of interest and speculation out there but we have not announced either the date nor the people that would be on those,” said Mr Colglazier.

“We approach this very methodically, with safety as the first consideration, and when we have all those boxes checked and all the steps in place – that’s when we can move forward and announce.”

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