Virgin Galactic awarded operator license for SpaceShipTwo

The certification came as VSS Unity began taxi trials(Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic has come a step closer to heading back into space with the US Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) awarding the company an operating license for SpaceShipTwo. Coming almost two years after a midair accident that took the life of a test pilot, Virgin Galactic says that this will eventually allow it to begin commercial operations.

According to the company, the license is the result of years of working with the FAA that included in-depth reviews of SpaceShipTwo's design, safety analysis, and flight trajectory analysis before final agency approval was given. The announcement on August 1 coincided with the latest version of SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, beginning with its first taxi test where its communications and telemetry systems were tested and calibrated while the craft was being towed by a Range Rover Autobiography.

The certification is a long-awaited comeback for the company, which has been troubled by delays and a fatal accident during a test flight. At about 10:07 PDT on October 31, 2014, VSS Enterprise (SS2-001) broke up in midair 13 seconds after being dropped from the WhiteKnightTwo mothership, resulting in the death of the co-pilot Michael Alsbury and severe injury to the pilot, Peter Siebold, who was thrown clear as the craft disintegrated. Subsequent investigation by the FAA concluded that the accident was due to an error by Alsbury, who deployed the tail boom 14 seconds too early.

"The granting of our operator license is an important milestone for Virgin Galactic, as is our first taxi test for our new spaceship," says 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."

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