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Virgin Galactic gets important go-ahead for resuming flight-testing

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (VSS Unity) being towed by a Range Rover Autobiography in New Mexico on 1 August 2016. Photograph courtesy of Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (VSS Unity) being towed by a Range Rover Autobiography in New Mexico on 1 August 2016. Photograph courtesy of Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company founded and owned by British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, received an important regulatory go-ahead on 1 August 2016 to resume flight-testing of its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) awarded Virgin Galactic an operator license for SpaceShipTwo. The license award, which will ultimately permit commercial operations of the vehicle, 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 vehicles system design, safety analysis and flight trajectory analysis, culminating in FAA-AST approval.

And earlier on 1 August 2016, the Virgin Galactic team conducted a taxi test with SpaceShipTwo (VSS Unity) and Range Rover Autobiography provided by Virgin Galactic’s automotive partner Land Rover. This test is an important step towards the flight test programme.

Virgin Galactic Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Moses said, “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.”

The FAA license to resume flight-testing operations comes after the tragic loss of another SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, VSS Enterprise, on 31 October 2014 when the vehicle fell apart in flight shortly after being released from its mother ship. The accident resulted in the death of Virgin Galactic co-pilot Michael Alsbury. The pilot of VSS Enterprise, Peter Siebold, was seriously injured in the accident.

Akbar Investments PJS, a sovereign wealth fund headquartered in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, is a major investor in Virgin Galactic holding a 37.8 per-cent stake in the company thought to be worth approximately U.S.$380 million.

It is also believed that both Virgin Galactic and Aabar Investments are considering building a spaceport for SpaceShipTwo operations (sub-orbital space tourism and the launch of small satellites) just outside of Abu Dhabi.

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