Virgin Galactic Gets FAA Approval to Fly Customers to Space

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Richard Branson’s

Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.

SPCE 34.35%

said Friday the Federal Aviation Administration will allow it to fly customers to space.

Shares of Virgin Galactic rose more than 15% in early-morning trading. Shares are up 164% so far this year.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, a company founded by

Amazon.com Inc.

AMZN -1.47%

founder

Jeff Bezos,

are competing in the consumer space race. After years of delays, the two companies are promising passengers a short joy ride for prices expected to be less than $500,000, based on prior comments from Virgin executives.

Mr. Branson plans to join a Virgin Galactic crewed test flight later this year. Earlier this month, Mr. Bezos said he plans to travel to space on July 20 as part of the first crew carried by Blue Origin, the Amazon.com founder’s space company.

Friday’s move is an adjustment to Virgin Galactic’s operator’s license, which the company has held since 2016.

Virgin Galactic also said that it has completed an extensive review of data gathered from its May 22 test flight and confirmed that it performed well against all flight objectives.

The May 22 test flight achieved a speed of Mach 3 and reached space at an altitude of 55.5 miles.

After an extensive review of the data collected during the flight, the company confirmed that the rocket-powered test of the spaceship’s upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls demonstrated strong performance, in line with predictions. The cabin environment data was also in line with predictions, it said.

The flight successfully carried three revenue-generating research experiments that tested and demonstrated technologies in microgravity as part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Flight Opportunities Program. The pilots flew VSS Unity on a specific trajectory designed to meet the objectives of these research experiments.

With the data analysis from the May flight now complete, Virgin Galactic will continue preparing for the remaining three test flights, it said.

NASA is partnering with SpaceX, Blue Origin and others to search for water on the moon. Water is the foundation for rocket propellant, which could supply refueling stations in the cosmos and make Mars trips cheaper. Photo illustration: Crystal Tai

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