Virgin Galactic Stock Heads to the Moon on FAA Approval

Shares of Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE) headed to the moon on Friday after the company announced that it had secured regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Virgin Galactic’s commercial space transportation operator license now officially allows the company to launch consumers into space, which is the first time that the regulator has provided such a license to a spaceline.

As of 12:20 p.m. EDT on Friday, Virgin Galactic shares had taken off and were up by 33%.

Last month’s test flight was a win

Following Virgin Galactic’s successful test flight from May, the company has completed its review of the data that it gathered and confirmed that the flight performed well and accomplished all of the mission’s primary objectives.

The flight achieved Mach 3 and climbed to an altitude of 55.5 miles. Virgin Galactic said that the upgraded horizontal stabilizers performed well and facilitated finer pilot control. These systems will be utilized in future spacecraft designed by Virgin Galactic. Importantly, the cabin environment data was all in line with Virgin Galactic’s expectations, which is critical since that’s where space tourists will be sitting.

Virgin Galactic said that the FAA’s decision validates the company’s rigorous testing program, which meets all of the agency’s necessary verification and validation requirements.

“The flight performed flawlessly, and the results demonstrate the safety and elegance of our flight system,” CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement. “Today’s approval by the FAA of our full commercial launch license, in conjunction with the success of our May 22 test flight, give us confidence as we proceed toward our first fully crewed test flight this summer.”

The billionaire space race

Virgin Galactic has three more test flights scheduled, including one that will ferry billionaire co-founder Richard Branson to the edge of space. 

Unlike the space race decades ago, the modern space race currently unfolding is being driven primarily by billionaires and commercial corporations. (NASDAQ: AMZN) founder and richest man in the world Jeff Bezos announced earlier this month that he plans to travel to space aboard a New Shepard rocket made by his rocket startup Blue Origin. 

Bezos will be joined by his younger brother Mark as well as whoever won an online auction a few weeks ago. The winner’s identity has not yet been announced, but Blue Origin said the winning bid was $28 million. The flight is scheduled for July 20, which space enthusiasts may recognize as the date that Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in 1969.

Branson is reportedly hoping to upstage Bezos by flying to space first, but Virgin Galactic has not yet finalized a date.

Separately, billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX had booked Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on a trip to the moon back in 2018 on the Starship that is currently in development. Maezawa is inviting other people from the public to join him, offering to cover the cost of the trip. That flight is scheduled for 2023.

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