OutsideOnline Virgin Galactic Richard Branson CEO clears launch cleared ground control FAA SuperDraco engine 500-million-dollar upgrade Jornada del Muerto desert basin New Mexico signed agreement space trip flight first SpaceShipTwo Spaceport America

SpaceShipTwo     Photo: ozz13x/Flickr

One Step Closer to Space Tourism

Official clearance given for space flights

Ground control to SpaceShipTwo, you are cleared to launch.

Virgin Galactic signed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday for its first commercial space flight, set to take off by the end of the year from Spaceport America in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin of New Mexico.

The agreement licenses Galactic to operate like a commercial airline—hopefully with better in-flight service—but Richard Branson and Co. cannot schedule regular flights to space just yet. The FAA still needs to clears SpaceShipTwo for standard safety and environmental checks.

In related news, SpaceX unveiled the Dragon V2, a manned space capsule that will shuttle astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station. The Dragon V2 is a sweet rig, even by spacecraft standards: It features Tesla S touch screens and a SuperDraco engine—200 times more powerful than engines currently in use. In all, it's a $500 million upgrade from the first iteration of the Dragon capsule.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says he is fairly confident Dragon V2 will launch in two years from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, the historic launch site of Apollo 11 in July 1969.