Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company owned by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, has been granted a license by U.S. authorities to restart testing of its rocket plane following a fatal crash in 2014.
The Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) awarded Virgin Galactic an operator license for SpaceShipTwo, which could lay the groundwork for regular trips to space.
It's an important step for Virgin Galactic which was rocked by the 2014 incident when an earlier version of SpaceShipTwo was destroyed during a test flight caused by a mistake by one of the pilots. The crash killed one pilot and seriously injured the other.
Doubts were raised about the future of space travel after this incident, but federal approval has reignited Virgin Galactic's aim to take people to edge of space. In a statement on Monday, the company said the license "was the culmination of several years of in-depth interaction with the FAA", which consisted of in-depth review of the vehicle's system design, safety analysis and flight trajectory analysis.
Virgin Galactic unveiled its latest version of the SpaceShipTwo earlier this year with design alterations to avoid a repeat of the accident.
Future passengers who are willing to fork out $250,000 will be taken up into the air by an aircraft called WhiteKnightTwo. When it reaches a certain altitude, SpaceShipTwo will be launched into space around 68 miles above the Earth's surface before re-entering the planet's atmosphere.
Virgin Galactic also said that its team conducted a taxi test with the SpaceShipTwo and a Range Rover Autobiography.
"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," Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic's senior vice president of operations, said in a press release.