Virgin Galactic granted licence to restart testing of rocket plane

03 Aug 2016


US authorities have granted a license to Virgin Galactic to restart testing of its rocket plane following a fatal crash in 2014.

The Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) has granted the space tourism company owned by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson an operator license for SpaceShipTwo.

According to commentators, it was an important development for the company, after the 2014 incident when an earlier version of SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight due to a mistake by one of the pilots (See: Investigators fault pilot's early `feathering' system activation for Virgin Galactic crash).

The crash killed one pilot and left the other seriously injured.

The second version of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, unveiled in February 2016 was renamed the VSS Unity.

Though doubts had been voiced about the future of space travel following the incident, federal approval had reignited Virgin Galactic's aim to take people to edge of space. In a statement on Monday, the company said the license "was the culmination of several years of in-depth interaction with the FAA".

"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," Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic's senior vice president of operations, said in a press release.

The license would allow Virgin Galactic to start test flights of the new vehicle.

Virgin Galactic had not yet announced when the first test flight would happen.

''The granting of our operator license is an important milestone for Virgin Galactic, as is our first taxi test for our new spaceship,'' said Moses.

The company had received $600 million in funding from founder Richard Branson, the Virgin Group, and Aabar Investments Group (Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi). It planned to use the craft to send satellites (if not paying human passengers) into space by sometime next year.

Among those reportedly in the line for the $250,000 space flights when they happen, are Stephen Hawking, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, and Katy Perry.

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