The Las Cruces (NM) Sun-News (8/28, Soular) reports the FAA has accepted Virgin Galactic’s license application for its commercial space system, according to CEO George Whitesides. The application covers WhiteKnightTwo, Virgin’s carrier plane, and SpaceShipTwo, its spaceliner. The FAA’s decision is due in six months. If approved, Virgin flights could begin launching in 2014, the Sun-News reports.
Virgin Galactic, the main client of Spaceport America, has taken a step closer to launching passengers to suborbital space from southern New Mexico after a recent move by federal flight officials.
The company's application for a license for its commercial space system, which includes a plane and a spaceship, has been officially accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said.
"It is our application for a license to fly commercial customers to space," he said. "This is the primary license we will require to begin commercial operations."
The company, part of billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group, first submitted its application earlier this summer.
The carrier plane, WhiteKnightTwo, and spaceliner, SpaceShipTwo, are still in the testing phase in Mojave, Calif. But they're eventually slated to launch tourists from Spaceport America, just north of Doña Ana County.
The acceptance of the application starts a review process that will culminate in a decision by the FAA on issuing the license, according to Whitesides.
"It now formally enters a period during which the space division of the FAA considers the application," he said.
The FAA has six months to make a decision on the license,by statute. But Whitesides also noted the agency can pause, or "toll," the process, which would stop the clock from ticking.
Hank Price, FAA spokesperson, declined to comment on whether Virgin Galactic had submitted its application, saying the agency would defer to the company.
New Mexico Spaceport Authority executive Director Christine Anderson declined to say whether Virgin Galactic had been in touch with the agency about the licensing application.
Branson remarked during a trip to Dubai in May that the first flight could happen Dec. 25. But Virgin Galactic has said its best guess is that the first paid flights from Spaceport America could start in 2014. The company has said ensuring the vehicles are safe is the key variable in determining when paid flights will start.
The state spaceport authority, which will receive between $25,000 and $75,000 for each Virgin Galactic flight, isn't banking on receiving any of that money in the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2014.
Anderson said recently the agency, which runs Spaceport America, hasn't budgeted to receive flight fee payments from the company in 2013-14, the agency's fiscal year.
"Last year, when I went in for my budget, we predicted February '14 I would have had some revenue coming in," said Anderson in a recent interview. "It does not look like that now. I would love it if they surprised me, and I would love it if they flew, but I can't count on that."
Flight ticket prices have jumped from $200,000 to $250,000 per person. More than 625 customers are signed up for flights, according to Virgin Galactic.
Diana Alba Soular may be reached at 575-541-5443.
By Diana Alba Soular
Posted: 08/27/2013 08:06:10 PM MDT