The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) has awarded Virgin Galactic a much prized operator licence. Owned by billionaire Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic is hoping to conduct its first spaceliner flights in 2017.
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Virgin Galactic is now in a position to launch flights on its spacecraft VSS Unity, to give SpaceShip Two its other name. Following years of negotiations and checks, the FFA-AST finally awarded the company the operator licence in the summer.
“Our world-class team is up to the challenge”
The project, which is being backed by the ambitious philanthropist, came to halt in late 2014, following a fatal accident in California (USA). Having finally obtained the licence, Virgin Galactic wasted little time in announcing it was getting back to work. On the agenda are a whole range of checks that will assess passenger and crew safety as well as flight plans and the design of the spacecraft.
“The granting of our operator license is an important milestone for Virgin Galactic,” said Mike Moses, the company’s Senior VP of Operations in a press release.
“While we still have much work ahead to fully test this spaceship in flight, I am confident that our world-class team is up to the challenge,” added Moses, who said that the first flights could take place in 2017, in line with FFA-AST schedules.
DiCaprio and Hawking on the passenger list
When the big day finally arrives, Virgin Galactic’s future customers will be able to take part in what the company describes as an “entirely new experience”. The budding astronauts will receive three days of training in secure conditions before taking their seats on board the spaceship, which will be carried up to an altitude of 13,300 metres by a custom-built jet aircraft.
VSS Unity will then be released and propelled to a distance of more than 80 kilometres above the Earth, right into space, at which point its passengers will be able to disengage their safety harnesses and experience microgravity for a few minutes. The actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the physicist Stephen Hawking have already booked their seats on this “tour bus” to the stars. A ticket to join them costs a cool €220,000.