Space tourism venture Virgin Galactic is steadily moving closer to flying customers to the edge of space, with the company expecting to clear remaining Federal Aviation Administration milestones after just one or two more rocket-powered test flights.
Virgin Galactic completed its second glide flight test in New Mexico last week, a success that the company expects will allow it to once again fly to space. The company last conducted a spaceflight in February 2019, before Virgin Galactic moved its spacecraft from a testing facility in California’s Mojave Desert to the company’s operations center in New Mexico.
The company has not said how many more test flights it will conduct before flying founder Sir Richard Branson, which will mark the beginning of commercial service. But Virgin Galactic told CNBC on Tuesday that, once it flies one or possibly two more rocket-powered test flights, it expects to pass the remaining FAA milestones needed for final regulatory approval to conduct regular spaceflights. As of May the company had cleared 24 of the FAA’s 29 milestones toward the license.
Virgin Galactic has its own set of test objectives to complete, which it emphasizes are in addition to the FAA’s milestones. One of the objectives is to fly four of its employees as passengers on a spaceflight, in addition to the two pilots who control the spacecraft. Previously, Virgin Galactic has flown chief astronaut trainer Beth Moses as a passenger on a spaceflight — one of five employees, including four pilots, who have become FAA-recognized astronauts.