Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo earns operator license

The second SpaceShipTwo, which will eventually take passengers into low-Earth orbit, will begin flight testing soon.

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Virgin Galactic (Las Cruces, New Mexico) reported on Aug. 1 that the US Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) has awarded Virgin Galactic an operator license for the composites-intensive SpaceShipTwo

The license award, which will ultimately permit commercial operation of the vehicle to take passengers on short excursions into low-Earth orbit, was the culmination of several years of in-depth interaction with the FAA. The license review process consists of an in-depth review of the vehicle's system design, safety analysis and flight trajectory analysis, culminating in FAA-AST approval.

Virgin Galactic also reports that it has conducted a taxi test with SpaceShipTwo (VSS Unity) and its Range Rover Autobiography, provided by Virgin Galactic’s automotive partner Land Rover. This test is an important step towards the flight test program.

Virgin Galactic senior vice president of operations, Mike Moses, says, “The granting of our operator license is an important milestone for Virgin Galactic, as is our first taxi test for our new spaceship. 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.”

VSS Unity is the second SpaceShipTwo manufactured by Virgin Galactic. The first crashed during flight testing on Oct. 31, 2014, killing the co-pilot. The pilot survived.