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Liftoff? US allows Virgin Galactic to take paying passengers into space | Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has made one other small leap within the billionaire space race after US authorities gave it permission to take paying prospects to space.

Its licence was enhanced on Friday by the US Federal Aviation Administration to permit a full industrial launch, after a profitable check flight final month.

Branson could but be on board the primary passenger flight, which in accordance to some studies could possibly be as early as 4 July from the New Mexico spaceport, though the agency mentioned this was hypothesis.

Three extra check flights are deliberate after the 22 May check, the place the SpaceShipTwo craft reached space at an altitude of 55.5 miles and a velocity of Mach 3, or greater than 2,300 miles an hour.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Galactic mentioned: “As previously announced, we expect to complete the final test flights this summer through to early fall [autumn]. At this time, we have not determined the date of our next flight.”

Michael Colglazier, chief government officer of Virgin Galactic, mentioned: “We’re incredibly pleased with the results of our most recent test flight, which achieved our stated flight test objectives. The flight performed flawlessly and the results demonstrate the safety and elegance of our flight system.

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What is Virgin Galactic?

Sir Richard Branson unveiled his ambition to ferry tourists into outer space and back in 2004, initially proposing a maiden voyage by 2009.

More than a decade later, and after several false dawns when the first trip appeared tantalisingly close, would-be private astronauts are still waiting to climb on board a Virgin Galactic flight.

More than 600 have already put down deposits for the pleasure of suborbital space flight, with tickets selling for $250,000 (£202,000).

Buyers will have to travel from Spaceport America in New Mexico, the home of the SpaceShipTwo craft.

The rocket-powered plane will be launched from the air by another plane, Scaled Composites Model 348 White Knight Two, reaching 68 miles above the Earth, where passengers will experience weightlessness before returning via a conventional runway landing.

The project suffered a setback in 2014 when a version of SpaceShipTwo disintegrated mid-air owing to what an investigation found was a combination of pilot error and inadequate safety procedures. Co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed, while pilot Peter Siebold was seriously injured.

Branson floated Virgin Galactic on the stock market last year, securing $450m investment from the former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya.

But while Branson said in 2019 that the first flights could follow this year, Virgin Galactic remains rooted to the launchpad.-

Photograph: Virgin Galactic

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“Today’s approval by the FAA of our full commercial launch licence, in conjunction with the success of our May 22 test flight, give us confidence as we proceed toward our first fully crewed test flight this summer.”

The FAA blessing got here as Branson vies with two of the world’s three richest males, the founding father of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and Tesla’s boss, Elon Musk, in creating space flight. Bezos just lately introduced he could be on board the primary passenger flight of the New Shepard spacecraft, constructed by his firm Blue Origin, on 20 July.

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The licence places Branson inside attain of lastly realising the ambition of the Virgin Galactic agency he based again in 2004, which has booked quite a few celebrities and super-rich passengers on board eventual space flights, at about $200,000 (£14,400) a ticket.

The enterprise has been marked by quite a few setbacks, not least two deadly accidents in 2007 and 2014, which killed three engineers and a check pilot.

Virgin Galactic turned a publicly traded firm in 2019, whereas Branson has just lately offered a whole lot of thousands and thousands of {dollars} of shares to assist prop up his struggling Virgin Atlantic airline, because it grounded its fleets and laid off workers due to the Covid pandemic.

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