You're Cleared for Blast-Off: Virgin Galactic Gets FAA Approval

Virgin Galactic founder, Sir Richard Branson, left, and Scaled Composites LLC founder, Burt Rutan, wave from the mothership aircraft White Knight Two "Eve" during an unveiling ceremony at Scaled Composites hangar in Mojave, Calif. Monday, July 28, 2008. More than 250 customers have paid $200,000 or put down a deposit for the chance to be one of Virgin Galactic's first space tourists. A date for the first launch has yet to be announced.

Virgin Galactic is one step closer to taking tourists to space, after signing an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday.
The agreement provides details on how the Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority will provide the space tourism company with safe airspace around Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the location of Spaceport America, for SpaceShipTwo.
"The agreement provides procedures for the safe integration of commercial, licensed space launch operations into the National Airspace System from Spaceport America," according to Virgin Galactic's statement.
Although Richard Branson keeps confidently saying that the company's commercial space flights will begin this year, there have been many technical and administrative hurdles. The agreement reached Thursday is one of the last challenges on the red tape side, but that does not necessarily mean the first flight is imminent.
Flights were supposed to begin in 2011, but have been delayed; Virgin Galactic has been working on the project for nearly a decade.
“Space flight is inherently dangerous,” Alexander Saltman, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, told the Albuquerque Journal. "I hope that one day that will no longer be true. But for now no one should get on board thinking it’s anywhere near as safe as an airline."
Travelers hoping to make the trip to space are not the only ones watching Virgin Galactic's progress — the region around the spaceport has high hopes for increased tourism. New Mexico taxpayers agreed to contribute $225 million to build the spaceport.
Virgin Galactic said that about 700 people have signed up to go on a flight, at a price of $250,000 each. The company has also said the price is likely to fall significantly in the next 10 years.

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