Future Tourism Spacecraft Receives FAA Permit
May 31, 2012

Future Tourism Spacecraft Receives FAA Permit

Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com

Space tourism just received one giant leg up by the U.S. government as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Virgin Galactic an experimental launch permit for its SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo will be taking space tourists to suborbital trips above the Earth, and the permit granted by the FAA brings the company one step closer.

“This important milestone enables our team to progress to the rocket-powered phase of test flight, bringing us a major step closer to bringing our customers to space,” George Whitesides, president and CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a press release. “We thank the FAA for their timely issuance of this permit, and for their responsible oversight of the test program.”

Virgin said the spacecraft have made significant progress in their flight test program, with 80 test flights completed.

WhiteKnightTwo, the carrier aircraft, is done with its testing phase, and SpaceShipTwo has completed 16 free flights, including three re-entry tests.

Virgin will begin a new series of tests in the fall to test the aerodynamic performance of SpaceShipTwo with the full weight of the rocket motor system on board.

“The Spaceship program is making steady progress, and we are all looking forward to lighting the vehicle´s rocket engine in flight for the first time,” Doug Shane, president of Scaled, the vehicle developer, said in a press release.

The FAA issues permits after its determined that vehicle operators have taken the appropriate steps to protect the public during testing.

Those who receive the permits must submit detailed plans for vehicle design and operation in order to ensure the public's safety under any scenario.

Virgin has been granted a handful of other experimental launch permits, but SpaceShipTwo is the first rocket-powered vehicle that will carry humans on board to have received a permit.

Virgin Galactic is offering seats to go to space for $200,000, and a spaceship charter program for $1 million.