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Virgin Galactic gets OK for passenger flights to space — and Richard Branson will be on one

Billionaire Richard Branson's spaceship company Virgin Galactic said on Friday it received approval from the U.S. aviation safety regulator to fly people to space, turning up the pressure on rivals in the nascent and expensive space tourism sector.

Virgin Galactic got approval from FAA just a month after a successful test flight

Virgin Galactic's piloted spacecraft, VSS Unity, is released from its mothership on the way to its first spaceflight after launch from Spaceport America, N.M., on May 22, 2021. Virgin Galactic got the OK to take passengers into space this year, and one of the first will reportedly be billionaire company founder Richard Branson. (Virgin Galactic/REUTERS)

Billionaire Richard Branson's spaceship company Virgin Galactic said on Friday it received approval from the U.S. aviation safety regulator to fly people to space, turning up the pressure on rivals in the nascent and expensive space tourism sector.

The approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) comes at a critical time for Branson as his space venture faces off against Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Tesla Inc boss Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Branson, Bezos and Musk have been investing billions of dollars on their rocket startups.

Branson, who is reportedly flying to space himself in a bid to beat rival billionaire Bezos to the final frontier, received the green light just a month after a successful test flight.

Getting the quick OK from the Federal Aviation Administration allows Branson to leapfrog past Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in the race to get to space. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

In May, Virgin Galactic completed its first crewed space flight from its new home port in New Mexico, as its SpaceShipTwo craft with a capacity of six passengers glided to a landing on a runway safely with its two pilots.

"Today's approval by the FAA ... gives us confidence as we proceed toward our first fully crewed test flight this summer," Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement.

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