SAN FRANCISCO – Virgin Galactic plans to move its spaceship, carrier aircraft and flight operations personnel this summer from Mojave, California, to New Mexico’s Spaceport America, company executives announced May 10.
The move will occur after The Spaceship Company, a firm owned by Virgin Galactic, completes the cabin interior for the SpaceShipTwo vehicle VSS Unity, George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic chief executive, said during a May 10 press conference at the New Mexico State Capitol Building in Santa Fe broadcast on Facebook Live.
VSS Unity carried two test pilots and a passenger, Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor, to an altitude of 89.9 kilometers on Feb. 22.
“This test has given us the confidence that it’s the right time to move the spaceship,” Whitesides said.
Virgin Galactic is completing work on the interior of its dedicated facility at Spaceport America, known as Gateway to Space. “We are now in the closing stages of the work on the staff zones of the building and well into the customer astronaut training areas,” Whitesides said.
Virgin Galactic also is updating the hangar for vehicle and operations support. The firm finished building an oxidizer vessel at the site and is nearing completion of a gas farm and antenna station for its facility, he added.
Spaceport America, a 70,000-square-kilometer launch complex, lies approximately 72 kilometers from the town of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Virgin Galactic is expanding its presence in a Las Cruces office building and moving into a dedicated warehouse in Las Cruces, Whitesides said.
“Our Virgin Galactic adventure has been intertwined with New Mexico and Spaceport America right from the start and our stories have unfolded together,” Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic founder, said at the press conference. “New Mexico delivered on its promise to build a world-first and world-class spaceport. Today, I could not be more excited to announce, that in return, we are now ready to bring New Mexico a world-first, world-class spaceline.”
Virgin Galactic intends to move personnel from Mojave to New Mexico during the summer to provide time for workers, particularly families with children, to integrate into new communities, Whitesides said.
Virgin Galactic executives did not indicate when they plan to begin offering commercial flights.
“We still need to finish out our flight test program, though we do feel we are in our final stretch,” Whitesides said. “We will do that in New Mexico using the unique and valuable airspace above the Spaceport. Before commercial operations begin, we will need to finish evaluation of the new outfitted cabin, the experience and the training program for our astronaut customers.”