In another, big step this week for Southern California's startup space vehicle industry, Virgin Galactic, the Sir Richard Branson-backed effort to commercialize sub-orbital flight vehicles for space tourism, said Wednesday that it has been granted an experimental launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Virgin Galactic said that Mojave-based Scaled Composites was granted the permit from the FAA to launch its suborbital spacecraft, SpaceshiptTwo, from its custom WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
The firm said that the permit is a "major step" towards bringing its customers to space. The companies said they have completed 80 test flights, including sixteen free flights of the SpaceShipTwo. The two said the next step are rocket-powere test flights of SpaceShipTwo. SpaceShiptTwo is based on SpaceShipOne, the first rocket-powered, manned spaceship which was flown to space in 2004 as part of the Ansari X Prize competition.
Southern California already has been celebrating a resurgence in its role in the aerospace industry, with the successful docking of a vehicle developed by Hawthorne-based SpaceX last week. SpaceX is expecting its Dragon spacecraft to return to earth around 5:35 a.m. Thursday morning. That launch was the first, ever, docking of a commercial spacecraft with the ISS.