Virgin Galactic is now clear to take off into suborbital space with human space tourists, thanks to a green-light from the US Federal Aviation Administration.
Virgin Galactic is an American-based, British-owned commercial spaceflight company that Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group founded in 2004. It hopes to provide commercial suborbital or orbital spaceflights for astronaut wannabees, and now it is one step closer to achieving that dream. Virgin Group has announced it just signed a joint agreement with the FAA that'll allow commercial flights of SpaceShipTwo from New Mexico.
Branson unveiled the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane in 2009, revealing it could transport ticketed individuals to the atmosphere on short trips. Virgin Group's FAA agreement has now defined how those short trips will occur: the SpaceShipTwo will launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico into the National Airspace System and work with the Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center and New Mexico Spaceport Authority to travel safely through clear airspace.
“Our team is working hard to begin routine and affordable space launches from Spaceport America and this agreement brings us another step closer to that goal,” said George Whitesides, chief executive officer at Virgin Galactic, in a press release. “We are grateful to the FAA and New Mexico for their partnership to achieve this milestone.”
The FAA agreement also outlines procedures for safe commercial space launches into the National Airspace System, one of the most complex aviation systems in the world. And finally, Virgin Group further announced that Virgin Galactic secured an agreement with the FAA's Joshua Control Facility and Edwards Air Force Base to cover spaceflights in California.
Virgin Group said these agreements will provide coverage for Virgin Galactic's airspace needs through the remainder of the test flight program in California and into commercial service in New Mexico. According to Space.com, Virgin Galactic wants start transporting tourists into suborbital space in 2015, though it hopes to have commercial services begin this year.
That said, Virgin Galactic has long allowed consumers to put down a deposit toward a ticket on SpaceShipTwo. Since 2005, for instance, the company has claimed that "several hundred people from around the globe" have booked their place in space. That means the waitlist for the first SpaceShipTwo commercial spaceflight is probably out of this world. Pun intended.