The US Federal Aviation Administration has awarded a suborbital launch permit to Scaled Composites for testing its SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle on behalf of Virgin Galactic, Virgin announced on 30 May.
The permit, for which Scaled submitted detailed flight plans and aerodynamic test data, is the only one of its kind for manned suborbital flights to date.
"With this permit now in hand, Scaled is now authorised to press onward towards rocket-powered test flights," says Virgin Galactic. "Scaled expects to begin rocket-powered, supersonic flights under the just-issued experimental permit toward the end of the year."
Virgin Galactic hopes to fly the first paying suborbital tourists in 2013. The company has signed 515 people for flights into suborbital space, rivaling the total number of spaceflight participants to date.
The lone SpaceShipTwo airframe and its host aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, have been on the ground for several months undergoing checks and modifications, but both are expected to take to the air again soon.
Components of the spacecraft's nitrous oxide/hydroxyl terminated polybutadiene (HTPB, a rubber derivative) hybrid engine have been integrated, and other components will continue to be integrated until it is prepared to fire.