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Virgin Galactic wins US operator's licence for SpaceShipTwo

Beardy Branson's bird not cleared for takeoff just yet, but hopeful of flight tests soon

By Simon Sharwood, 2 Aug 2016

Virgin Galactic has won an operator's licence for its re-usable low-orbit vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, from the United States Federal Aviation Administration.

As described here, the licence permits holders “... to conduct launches or reentries from one launch or reentry site within a range of operational parameters of launch or reentry vehicles from the same family of vehicles transporting specified classes of payloads or performing specified activities.”

Winning the licence therefore means US authorities have cleared SpaceShipTwo for eventual takeoff, once it proves itself air-and-space-worthy.

Virgin Galactic has plenty more tests planned before sending SpaceShipTwo aloft. Today it conducted a “taxi test” that appears to have seen the craft towed along an airport apron.

The space company says that test is a sign a resumption of flight tests is near. In late 2014Virgin suffered the loss of a SpaceShipTwo prototype and the death of co-pilot Michael Alsbury. That incident was later attributed to a design that did not take into account foreseeable pilot errors.

Virgin Galactic of course pledged to re-design its craft to avoid similar incidents. Those efforts now seem close to bearing fruit and meeting the company's promise to get into space by mid-2017. ®

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