Virgin Galactic announced Friday that the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the company to fly passengers to space, a major step toward the launch of commercial operations.
“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,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement.
Virgin Galactic has held a launch license from the FAA since 2016 that allows the Richard Branson-owned company to conduct spaceflights
But the expansion of the license now clears the space tourism company to fly customers on its rockets. It’s the first time the FAA has licensed a spaceline to fly customers, the company said.
The news propelled shares of Virgin Galactic more than 12 percent in premarket trading Friday, with the stock trading as high as $45 per share.
The company’s stock has struggled this year after it saw delays in testing that threatened to push back its launch of commercial operations. The stock stood above $60 per share as recently as February before collapsing to nearly $15 per share last month.
Virgin Galactic hasn’t announced when its next spaceflight will be, but there’s speculation the company will try to launch Branson, its billionaire founder, to space before Amazon CEO and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos makes his trip to the edge of space on July 20.
Virgin Galactic previously announced its next spaceflight would carry four passengers, while the second would carry Branson.
But the recent clearance from the FAA could set the company up to steal Bezos’ thunder.