Virgin Galactic Is One Step Closer to Sending Tourists to Space

August 2, 2016, 11:11 AM UTC

Virgin Galactic is about to get off the ground again.

A little less than two years ago, the first version of its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft was destroyed when a co-pilot wrongly turned on the descent mechanism during a test flight, killing him and seriously injuring the pilot. On Monday, Virgin Galactic said it received an operator license for its new SpaceShipTwo craft from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-CST).

This license will allow it to begin test flights of the new vehicle. On Monday, it performed a more modest taxi test, pulling it down the runway behind a Land Rover. Virgin Galactic has yet to announce when the first test flight will happen.

“The granting of our operator license is an important milestone for Virgin Galactic, as is our first taxi test for our new spaceship,” said Virgin Galactic senior vice president of operations Mike Moses. “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 company, which received $600 million in funding from founder Richard Branson, the Virgin Group, and Aabar Investments Group (Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi), is aiming to use the craft to send satellites (if not paying human passengers) into space by sometime next year. When it does begin to shuttle people into space, Stephen Hawking, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, and Katy Perry are said to be in line for the $250,000 flights. About 700 people have already put down deposits for the flights, according to Reuters.

Earlier this year at Fortune’s Brainstorm E energy and environment conference in Carlsbad, Calif., Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, a former NASA chief of staff, said that space travel would become common relatively soon.

“We’re at an inflection point,” he said. “Only about 550 people have ever gone to space. Come back in 10 years and thousands of people will have gone.”

The first SpaceShipTwo flew 55 missions before it was destroyed on Oct. 31, 2014, according to USA Today.