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Virgin Galactic wins license for new spaceship

Image: Virgin Galactic taxi test
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, known as VSS Unity, is pulled behind a Range Rover vehicle during its first taxi test at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic says it’s received an operator license from the Federal Aviation Administration for flying its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane into outer space with commercial payloads.

The craft, known as VSS Unity, has just begun on-the-ground taxi tests at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port – and it’s on track to begin flight tests as early as this month.

During today’s first taxi test, a Range Rover SUV pulled Unity down Mojave’s runway to evaluate and calibrate the craft’s navigation and communication/telemetry systems, Virgin Galactic said.

The initial flight tests will involve carrying Unity into the air while it’s firmly attached to its White Knight Two mother ship. If those captive-carry tests go well, White Knight Two will start releasing Unity for unpowered glide flights, and then for rocket-powered flights.

Virgin Galactic’s operator license, issued on July 29, clears the way for test flights from Mojave and for the transport of scientific and experimental payloads.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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