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Sir Richard Branson gains licence for commercial spaceflights

Sir Richard Branson has received the licence he needs to fly paying customers to the edge of space in his Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

The approval was granted on Friday by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

It updates an existing licence that had permitted Sir Richard's company to conduct test flights only.

The UK entrepreneur has some 600 people waiting to take a ride to a height of 90km, to experience weightlessness and to see the curvature of the Earth.

These are individuals who have all paid deposits. The would-be "astronauts" are largely made up of the super-wealthy, and include a smattering of movie and music stars.

Virgin Galactic will send them up from a dedicated spaceport in America's New Mexico desert.

The FAA's licence upgrade follows a successful test outing for the plane, known as Unity, conducted on 22 May.

Data collected on that flight satisfied the federal agency that all outstanding technical development milestones had been met.

Michael Colglazier, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, said: "We're incredibly pleased with the results of our most recent test flight, which achieved our stated flight test objectives.

"The flight performed flawlessly, and the results demonstrate the safety and elegance of our flight system. Today’s approval by the FAA of our full commercial launch licence, in conjunction with the success of our 22 May test flight, give us confidence as we proceed toward our first fully crewed test flight this summer."

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