August 5, 2021

FAA Grants Virgin Galactic License To Carry Passengers On Suborbital Flights

Virgin Galactic is a step closer to becoming a spaceline company.

The FAA, also known as the Federal Aviation Administration, has updated Virgin Galactic’s space transport operator license, allowing the company to fly paying passengers on its spacecraft.

Virgin Galactic also announced today that the most recent flight performed by its spacecraft the VSS Unity, which took place on May 22, 2021, has achieved its major goals, thus keeping the company on the right track for future test missions to take place in soon.

The flight went smoothly and the results demonstrate all the safety and elegance of the flight system, said Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier. He added that today’s announcement by the FAA of the full license for commercial flights, along with the success of the May 22 flight, gives them the confidence to move forward with the first full crewed flight this summer.

The VSS Unity, which can accommodate six passengers and two pilots, is the latest version of Virgin Galacti’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle to soar through the skies, it is carried by a special aircraft called the White Knight Two. When it reaches a height of 15,000 meters, the VSS Unity is released, then starts its engines for suborbital flight and then returns to Earth, landing like an airplane.

VSS Unity has performed 3 pilot piloted flights to suborbital space to date. The first two in December 2018 and February 2019, taking off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, near the premises of The Spaceship Company, a subsidiary of Virgin Galactic. And the May 22, 2021 mission took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, where the company’s commercial hub is located.

The only people aboard VSS Unity’s first and third flights were the pilots. The February 2019 flight was also attended by Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor, Beth Moses, who was in the passenger cabin.

More test flights are expected to follow soon, to be more precise, 3 more test flights are yet to run, Virgin Galactic hopes to run these tests by the end of summer in the US or early fall. In one of these tests, who must go as a passenger is the billionaire founder of the company Richard Branson.

Once the test campaigns are complete and all the data has been analyzed, Virgin Galactic will then revert to commercial operations mode, flying with paying passengers. These customers will be able to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and the coolest thing, see the Earth’s curvature from space, all for a mere $250,000 per seat.

Virgin Galactic isn’t the only company that will offer flights into suborbital space. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin developed the New Sheppard capsule and rocket system, which is scheduled to make the first manned flight on July 20, 2021. Among the people who will go on that first flight is Bezos himself, his own brother Mark, and a person who is paying $28 million to join the flight. Blue Origin has not yet said who this person is, the company has not yet announced the value of the tickets, but it will certainly be less than 28 million dollars.