Virgin Galactic, a commercial spaceflight company that is part of Richard Branson's Virgin Group, announced Thursday that it has signed a deal with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, to license space flights from its Spaceport America base in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The agreement, which defines how routine space missions launched from Spaceport America will be integrated into U.S. air space, also explains how the FAA’s local air traffic control authority in Albuquerque, N.M., and the state’s Spaceport Authority will work with Virgin Galactic to create a dedicated airspace for SpaceShipTwo, the company’s aircraft that is set to fly tourists to space in the coming years. According to the company's website, hundreds of people have signed up for tickets, priced at $250,000 each, since bookings opened in 2005.
“Our team is working hard to begin routine and affordable space launches from Spaceport America and this agreement brings us another step closer to that goal,” George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement.
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority, or NMSA, has an agreement in place with the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range to support space launch activities within WSMR airspace. In addition, Virgin Galactic also has arranged with Edwards Air Force Base and the FAA’s Joshua Control Facility to cover spaceflights in California.
Virgin Galactic, which is co-owned by Richard Branson and Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments, began paying rent on a 20-year lease last year to conduct space missions from the 110,000 square foot “Gateway to Space” building at Spaceport America.
Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic’s rival SpaceX, which is the first private rocket maker to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, or ISS, also has planned to build a spaceport in Texas. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based space transport company has proposed launching 12 rockets in a year from a site near Brownsville in southern Texas, BBC reported.
SpaceX, founded by serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, unveiled its new Dragon V2 spaceship on Thursday. Dragon V2, which can carry seven passengers and reportedly has the ability to land anywhere on Earth with its landing legs, is designed to carry NASA astronauts to and from the ISS.