Virgin Galactic Nearing Approval for SpaceShipTwo Launch License

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GREENBELT, Md. — Virgin Galactic is in the “final phases” of its efforts to receive a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial launch license for SpaceShipTwo, and plans to resume powered test flights of that suborbital vehicle in the near future, the company’s chief executive said March 6.

“I think we’re in the final phases of our commercial launch application with the FAA, and that’s going well,” George Whitesides said in a luncheon speech at the Goddard Memorial Symposium in Washington. Virgin Galactic had submitted that application to the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation last August, where it has been under review. “We hope to progress that to conclusion soon.”

Virgin Galactic currently has an experimental permit from the FAA to allow test flights of SpaceShipTwo. The company has performed three powered test flights, most recently Jan. 10. Whitesides said the company is now “doing the groundwork” for its next powered flight, while also working to outfit the interior of the vehicle for later commercial flights.

Whitesides declined to say when that fourth test flight is scheduled. However, after his presentation, he said the company is tentatively targeting midsummer for SpaceShipTwo’s first suborbital flight into space, which will come after several additional test flights, with commercial service to begin later in the year.

When Virgin Galactic does receive its launch license, that license will supersede its experimental permit. However, Whitesides said he backed legislative proposals to allow a company to hold both a permit and license for the same vehicle, so that it could perform test flights under the less restrictive permit and commercial flights under license. “I think anybody who is building multiple vehicles over time will want to have, at different times, those vehicles on a permit and operating under a license,” he said