Virgin Galactic's plans to charter its first space flights by the end of the year have been given another huge boost after it got the green light to begin planning launches. The company, which is now deep in its testing phase, signed a deal with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help it set clear guidelines on how its missions will take place in US airspace. The agreement doesn't give Virgin a license to embark on regular trips to space (at least not yet), but instead paves the way for Richard Branson and co. to operate Galactic like a commercial airline.

The FAA will see that future space flights are integrated into the National Airspace System, clearing the skies for launches of Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and SpaceShipTwo jet from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Although the the deal ticks off another major box, Virgin's commercial flights still face more approvals. It'll have to pass safety audits, environmental checks and sign insurance deals before it's anywhere near ready. Once that's done, Richard Branson says his family will jump aboard the first commercial space flight followed by 600 people who have already reserved their ride.