British billionaire Richard Branson’s dream of commercial space flight is one step closer to reality.
Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued clearance for SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s six-passenger spacecraft, to start rocket-powered test flights, Reuters reports.
Built by Northrop Grumman‘s (NYSE:NOC) Scaled Composites, the ship is designed make suborbital flights, carrying passengers just beyond the atmosphere, but not quite into true space.
The government issued a one year permit for test flights to Scaled Components so that the spacecraft can begin trials prior to delivery to Virgin Galactic. The permit only allows company test pilots to fly on the spaceship during the testing phase.
SpaceShipOne, and earlier version of the spaceship was awarded the also $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 and has successfully completed three suborbital flights. SpaceShipTwo, which rides on top of a plane until its rocket engines fire, boosting it beyond the atmosphere, has already completed rocket-less test flights.
While no start date has yet been announced for commercial flights, Virgin Galactic has booked more than 500 passengers for the suborbital flights at $200,000 per trip.