New Mexico

Virgin Galactic Gets FAA OK on Air Traffic Control, Only 1 Bazillion More Regulatory Hurdles Left


virgin galactic
Virgin Galactic

Yesterday was a big one for the private spaceflight industry.

While SpaceX was busy whisking sheets off of space capsules to ferry humans back and forth to the International Space Station, their colleagues/competitors at Virgin Galactic got some good news from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about their efforts to launch commercial tourist flights to the edge of space from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Headlines like this one in the Daily Mail overstate the case a bit: 

Virgin Galactic gets the green light: US aviation authorities approve Branson's space flights for launch later this year

This one from (an otherwise accurate) Mashable article is off the mark as well, and not just because the design of Virgin's SpaceShipTwo means that there really isn't a blast-off from the spaceport in the sense that we are accustomed to from NASA's shuttles—it's more like a take-off:

You're Cleared for Blast-Off: Virgin Galactic Gets FAA Approval

The FAA and other federal regulators will still have a lot say about what Virgin can and cannot do. But the space tourism company founded by ultrarich entrepreneur Richard Branson did manage to reach an agreement with the FAA about how flights out of the heavily taxpayer subsidized Spaceport America will interact with terrestrial air traffic control authorities in Albuquerque.

Here's the company's "thank you and please don't screw us in the future, regulators" boilerplate press release

"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," Virgin Galactic Chief Executive George Whitesides said in a statement. "We are grateful to the FAA and New Mexico for their partnership to achieve this milestone."

More from Reason on the FAA as a roadblock to space tourism here.

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  1. Uh, it’s exactly like a take-off because that’s what it is. No rocket motors, no vertical launch, not even a RATO. Just a big jet plane taxiing down the runway and taking off. The only difference is the big jet plane has a smaller rocket plane slung underneath; the smaller rocket planes motors are not used during takeoff.

  2. I think we’re missing the bigger picture here. After what happened in Isla Vista, shouldn’t this company be forced to change its name?

    1. Referencing Isla Vista triggers me, FoE, but you already knew that.

      1. Are you coming on to me?

        1. Always.

  3. “We are grateful to the FAA and New Mexico for their partnership to achieve this milestone.”

    What they really mean:

    If it weren’t for you sheisser heads at the FAA, and NASA robbing the taxpayers we’d have flown folks all around space long ago. Oh, and eff you too New Mexico! Freakin violent ass state always keeping folks down. .

  4. Have FAA approval, will travel

  5. Why are we writing about this here at Reason? I mean, this is a libertarian site, and libertarians are right wingers, right? And all right wingers are science deniers, right?

    Anyway, this thing isn’t going into space, but only high enough above the earth that there is a zero gravity effect.

    When they are offering tickets to the moon to stay at the luna hedonista club moon base, and I can afford it, I’d be interested.

    1. You can get (effective) zero-g in a conventional aircraft operating within the atmosphere. Vomit comet, baby.

      The edge of space is generally defined as 100 km up.

      This will go outside the atmosphere, and allow two-hour journeys from say NY to Tokyo

      1. I’d be interested in Baltimore to Recife in 2 hours, but I am sure I can’t afford the ticket price.

        1. I think it’s about $200K per person at the moment for flights starting and originating in NM. Other flights higher depending on number of passengers and cost of getting approval to land at other airports.

          1. I’ll just accept my $1500 round trip at 11 hours each way, sigh…


    Opey out

    1. There’s only so much wriggling in the slime that even scumbags of the highest order can take. Jay reached his limit; now he’ll go settle down in some lobbying firm and make millions.

      “Beat it, kids! Come back when you got connections!”

    2. For a second there I thought you were talking about Ron Howard who grew up to direct “Apollo 13”.

      As loathsome as Carney is, he is just a spokescritter.

      1. No, not that Opey Cunningham. His political hack twin.

  7. Well now we know the reason for dragging out the Shinseki resignation was. They needed to get Carney on board for the Friday Afternoon Two-Step. Nothing the media loves more than talking about the media. VA What? NEW PRESS SECRETARY!!

  8. All so rich people can take a trip some sixty-odd miles above the earth, and then come back down.


    1. ^This^

    2. One of these days, Alice. Boom! Pow! Straight to the Moon!

    3. Rich people bought cellular service when air time was crazy expensive, making it possible for me to afford a cell phone today that works better than their expensive one did 20 years ago. Rich people bought high def TVs when they cost a fortune, and now they cost less and I can have one. Rich people flying into space means it won’t be too long before I can afford to do it as well.

      1. Rich people used to own slaves… they also belonged to country clubs first. Neither of those, I assume, are more affordable to you now.

        1. Ummmm, Country Clubs are. My local country club was offering $5000 memberships last year. They usually go for 10x that price.

          What slavery has to do with anything I have no fucking idea.

          1. It’s just another thing that rich people have owned that is not attainable to all because of their early adoption.

            1. If only there were some logical explanation for that.

            2. The politics of resentment on full display, people.

              1. The thing samuel jackson said about making an ass out of u and umption on full display here, people.

          2. Clearly he’s upset that Moore’s law didn’t work with slaves the way it has with consumer electronics.

            1. Clearly.

            2. Not upset, just pointing out that generally works with technology, but not status symbols.

              For this to find it’s way to the masses it must first show those rich people how it can earn them more money- and tourism’s not the way to go with that. If it is, it will stay niche and never take off. If, however, you can just from NY to Tokyo in 2 hours, it will take hold. I do, however, view this as 8 track technology that will be leap frogged by something as of yet unforseen.

              1. 1) Conspicuous consumption which is basically HS-level econ.

                2) Yes, SpaceShip Two can indeed take people from NY to Tokyo in a couple of hours. Not that it matters because it’s none of your business how others spend their own money.

                1. Nope. I’m not claiming it is my business. I’m simply saying I don’t believe them. The laser disc, 8 track, velcro, segway… I can go on and on- but I still don’t have flying cars.

                  the future is impossible to predict- especially tech future. The game is changed daily.

                  1. Da fuck did you just say about Velco?!?

                    1. Look, Velco was a friend of mine too; but it just hasn’t worked out.

                  2. Lessons learned with the laser disc made the DVD, the dual layer DVD, and the Blu-ray possible. The 8 track lead to the cassette, which made the Walkman a viable product. Velcro, well, that’s pretty much everywhere. The Segway may be a silly thing in and of itself, but its development required advances in sensors and motors that make other things possible.

                    If you’re upset that none of this has wound up with a flying car I think you’re looking at it wrong.

                    1. I’m not upset about anything. I’m simply pointing out the folly of thinking this “space travel” will be something in and of itself. It might fail and produce something that will lead to something else- and that’s an article I would love to read. As it is now, it’s hype. (also cassette tapes weren’t children of 8-tracks, but cousins both born of reel to reel tape, so 8 tracks had nothing to do with the invention of cassette tapes- unless I’m completely wrong here, which I could be- also, see same argument with minidisc.)

          3. Also, why the hell would someone want to join a country club that allows people in for only $5k?

            With that kind of riff-raff allowed it surely can’t have well maintained putting greens.

            1. Monthly dues.

            2. Be very careful. At Playa’s country club the $5000 members are there as prey. He will hunt you down, skin you, and keep your spine as a trophy.

              1. Yes, but they can’t use the sight and the monocle at the same time, so they’ve got that going for them… which is nice.

              2. Oh, I’m not a member. Anymore. I never finished telling you about all of the lifetime bans that I have earned. I think I told you about the golf course incident, but not the country club one.

                1. I just assumed it was for stalking Cyndi Lauper.

            3. Um, not all country clubs are for the super rich, there are some lower-rent country clubs for the merely well-off. Just like many people who can’t afford a Bentley are pefectly happy with a Mercedes.

              1. Hell, a 50,000 membership is affordable for the merely rich.

              2. Yes, but isn’t that really because the mercedes doesn’t offer the head room for their top hats?

        2. I really think that slavery came before country clubs.

          Yes, people used to own slaves. Lots of people in lots of cultures and places throughout history, and probably before. Chances are you are descended from some of those people, and possibly also the descendant of someone enslaved. It has always been wrong and evil. But it is our history and there is nothing you can do about that.

          1. Tonio,

            see your comment below about strength of stupidity.

    4. That’s exactly why they’re letting it happen. It will be used to close loopholes in tax laws for rich people.

      “We see, in our audit, that you were able to travel into space… There’s a penalty for that unless you bough space travel insurance through the government exchange or is is provided by your employer.”

    5. They are positioning SpaceShip Two for both tourism and for rapid travel between any two major airports on earth.

      Also, those rich people will pay for the development of SpaceShip Three…

      Don’t sneer at progress just because it isn’t everything you want.

      1. No one’s sneering- but don’t think that this is the real world, long term solution it’s hyped up to be by people who have large stakes in it’s success.

        Skepticism is healthy. Also, trolling is good for the soul.

        1. Solution? Solution for what?

          That’s the difference between you and us. For you everything has to be a solution for what proggies perceive as a problem, or an agent for “progress”, or something. It’s never good enough for something to just be; it has to feed poor children, or advance racial equality or something.

          For us a thing can have worth on its own merits, without advancing libertarianism .

          1. Tonio- there are two types of people in this world. Those who put people into groups and those who don’t.

            One might think that one’s sense of humor might need to be checked.

          2. Also, solution to anything other than tourism and thrill seekers. It solves no problems- meaning it meets a niche need. Meaning it will stay a niche- and expensive- product.

            It’s neat. it’s not revolutionary.

            1. Yep, “it solves no problems”. Utilitarianism, FTW! Thanks for self-parodying.

              1. People make money filling people’s needs. The less people that need it- or want it- the more has to be charged for it to meet demand. At some point, the clearing price isn’t worth the cost of production, meaning the market fails.

                I’m simply short selling that this is a large success for anyone in the future. It is a niche tourism market.

                Remember the concord? Remember how that wasn’t cost effective so it died? I don’t care if people paid to ride it- good for them. but I’m not going to read an article about how the concord is the future of travel without making fun of people who believe it.

                1. not the market fails, the market falls. the market doesn’t ever fail.

    6. *yawn*

      You got some problem with that, downstater?


  9. Reach zero G? How much vomit can that plane handle?

    1. You can reach zero g just by going off a cliff.

      1. isn’t that actually the opposite of zero G. Isn’t that, in fact, a full 1 G dragging you to earth?

        1. You are zero g until you strike the ground. Then you get a whole bunch of gs in a very short time.

          1. isn’t that only in a vacuum- or if you were to somehow contort your body in a way to negate the drag of air resistance?

            1. Jesus.

              1. Sure, point out the exception that proves the rule.

              2. The stupid is strong in this one.

                1. how is what I’ve said stupid?

        2. Gravity is still dragging you down towards the earth even high up in space since that’s how satellites, moons. etc. orbit. The forward velocity just prevents you from hitting the ground. The farther away from a mass the less gravitational pull there is though. There is a measurable difference of less than 1g at high mountain tops.

          The “zero” G really describes a relative effect, like experiencing zero G in a free falling plane. You’re not accellerating with respect to the plane, your falling along with it inside, so you get to float. However, relative to the earth you’re still accelerating at 1G, or whatever the rate of the plane is.

  10. Thirty years ago the Grace Commission recommended the privatization of launch services at a savings of 1.5 billion over 3 years.

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