Virgin Galactic selects Arizona for spaceplane manufacturing facility

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WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic announced July 14 plans to assemble a fleet of suborbital spaceplanes in a new factory in a suburb of Phoenix.

The company said it has started work on the factory in Mesa, Arizona, where it will perform final assembly of new Delta-class spaceplanes. The facility is scheduled to be fully operational by late 2023. The first of those spaceplanes will start flying private astronauts in 2026, the company projects.

Virgin Galactic disclosed few details about the new factory, such as its size, but said it construction of it was in progress. It is located adjacent to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, enabling completed spaceplanes to be transported by air to Spaceport America in New Mexico. The company said the factory will support “hundreds” of jobs and produce up to six spaceplanes a year.

“Our spaceship final assembly factory is key to accelerating the production of our Delta fleet, enabling a rapid increase in flight capacity that will drive our revenue growth,” said Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, in a company statement. “We’re thrilled to expand into the greater Phoenix area, which is home to outstanding aerospace talent, and we look forward to growing our team and fleet at our new facility.”

The Delta-class spaceplanes are the next generation of suborbital spacecraft that the company says will be able to fly more frequently than existing SpaceShipTwo vehicles. Virgin Galactic projects Delta class vehicles to be able to fly once a week, while the existing SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, will only be able to fly monthly. VSS Imagine, a spaceplane being built by Virgin Galactic at its Mojave, California, factory, is designed to perform two flights a month.

Virgin Galactic did not go into details about why it selected Mesa, Arizona, for the factory, but the company previously said it was considering several locations. “We’ve been in contact with multiple municipalities about locations and have received interest from at least three states,” Colglazier said in a November 2021 earnings call about plans for the Delta-class factory. “We expect interest to grow as we estimate we’ll be creating more than 1,000 new jobs. We are looking forward to the new opportunities and community relationships that our expanded footprint will bring.”

“Arizona is a growing innovation hub, geographically situated between our existing operations in Southern California and New Mexico,” Swami Iyer, president of aerospace systems at Virgin Galactic, said in a statement. “This will allow us to accelerate progress from conceptual design to production to final assembly at scale as we capitalize on the many advantages Mesa and the Greater Phoenix area offer.”

Virgin Galactic will contract with suppliers to produce major components of the Delta-class vehicles, which will then be assembled in Mesa. The company has not announced which suppliers it is working with.

The company is taking a similar approach for building new planes to replace the existing WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, VMS Eve, used for carrying SpaceShipTwo aloft. Virgin announced July 6 it selected Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary, to produce major components of two aircraft, which will then be assembled at Virgin’s Mojave factory.