Virgin Galactic has operated under a launch license from the FAA since 2016, which allowed the Richard Branson-owned company to conduct preliminary spaceflights. The new expansion now clears the company to fly customers to space, marking the first time the FAA has licensed a space tourism company to fly commercial passengers.
“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,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement.
Colglazier also said that its post-launch analysis of its May 22 test flight — the company’s third test flight and first from its Spaceport America in New Mexico — “performed flawlessly, and the results demonstrate the safety and elegance of our flight system.”
Virgin Galactic has not announced when its next spaceflight is set to take off, but the approval puts the company head-to-head with Jeff Bezos‘ spaceflight company Blue Origin, sparking speculation that Virgin Galactic will try to launch Branson into space before Bezos make his scheduled trip on July 20.
Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft is designed to carry up to six passengers and two pilots. The company disclosed that it currently has approximately 600 reservations for future flights, which sold for prices between $200,000 USD and $250,000 USD each.
Elsewhere in space tourism news, you can now reserve a spot on Space Perspective’s balloon flight to the stratosphere.