Specifically, Scaled Composites, the manufacturer of SpaceShipTwo, received a one-year experimental launch permit on May 23, 2012, for test flights beyond Earth’s atmosphere (that is, in outer space).
Scaled Composites is providing spacecraft to Virgin Galactic in order to take paying customers for suborbital flights into space, similar to the ones by the NASA Mercury astronauts in the early 1960s.
Owned by Northrop Grumman, Scaled Composites will begin these test flights later in 2012. Although a date has not been set for its first passenger flight, these test flights by only pilots will undoubtedly lead the way to these commercial flights by Virgin Galactic in 2013 or 2014.
So far, Virgin Galactic has received deposits from over 500 people for rides on SpaceShipTwo, at a final total cost of approximately $200,000 per wealthy space tourist.
For more on the story, please read the Christian Science Monitor article “Virgin Galactic spaceship cleared for test flights”.
The CSM article states, “Virgin Galactic's president, George Whitesides, called the permit an ‘important milestone’ that puts the company ‘a major step closer to bringing our customers to space.’”