Virgin Galactic, the privately-funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS, and Spaceport America has announced that they have signed a joint agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that helps clear the path for commercial flights of SpaceShipTwo. The historic agreement sets out the parameters for how routine space missions launched from Spaceport America will be integrated into the National Airspace System. Specifically, the agreement spells out how the FAA’s Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority will work with Virgin Galactic to smoothly and safely provide clear airspace for SpaceShipTwo.
“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,” said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. “We are grateful to the FAA and New Mexico for their partnership to achieve this milestone.”
The agreement provides procedures for the safe integration of commercial, licensed space launch operations into the National Airspace System from Spaceport America. The New Mexico Spaceport Authority also has an agreement in place with the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range to support space launch activities within WSMR airspace.
In addition, Virgin Galactic now has agreements in place with Edwards Air Force Base and the FAA’s Joshua Control Facility to cover spaceflights in California. As a whole, these agreements provide coverage for the company’s airspace needs through the remainder of the test flight program in California and into commercial service in New Mexico.
Last year, Virgin Galactic began paying rent on a 20-year lease to conduct space missions from the 110,000 square foot “Gateway to Space” building at Spaceport America, which was recently awarded Gold Status under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process. NMSA already holds a Launch Site Operator License issued by the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST).