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Virgin Galactic to move remaining SpaceShipTwo test flights to New Mexico – Spaceflight Now

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Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo provider jet, which hoists the corporate’s rocket aircraft aloft, pictured at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Credit score: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic will conduct the remaining check flights for the corporate’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket aircraft from southern New Mexico after transferring employees and gear from California over the subsequent few months, officers introduced Friday.

Richard Branson, founding father of Virgin Galactic, introduced the transfer Friday in an occasion with New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in Santa Fe.

After finishing two check flights to an altitude greater than 50 miles (80 kilometers) in December and in February, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo car, its provider plane, pilots and assist employees will relocate to Spaceport America in southern New Mexico this summer time, officers stated.

“Our Virgin Galactic journey has been intertwined with New Mexico and Spaceport America proper from the beginning, and our tales have unfolded collectively,” Branson stated.

Spaceport America was constructed with greater than $200 million in taxpayer funding, and the power opened in 2011. However the spaceport sat largely vacant attributable to delays within the growth of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket aircraft, together with a deadly crash in 2014 that set this system again greater than three years.

However Virgin Galactic officers stated Friday that now’s the precise time to maneuver the corporate’s flight program from Mojave Air and Area Port in California, the staging base for all the SpaceShipTwo flights up to now, to Spaceport America, situated about 45 miles (70 kilometers) north of Las Cruces.

“Virgin Galactic is coming dwelling to New Mexico, and it’s coming dwelling now,” Branson stated.

“With as we speak’s announcement, New Mexico will grow to be the primary place on this stunning planet of our’s to often launch people into area,” Branson stated. “Rarer nonetheless, is that these launches will probably be performed by a non-public firm.”

Spaceport America was in-built a distant a part of southern New Mexico, round 45 miles (70 kilometers) north of Las Cruces. Credit score: Virgin Galactic

George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic’s CEO, stated the corporate will add about 100 jobs in New Mexico, together with pilots, mechanics, engineers and hospitality hosts. The corporate at the moment has round 45 workers in New Mexico.

“With Virgin Galactic’s funding and presence right here, we at the moment are first not simply within the nation for this effort, however we’re first on the planet,” Gov. Lujan Grisham stated.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo car is designed to drop from the stomach of a purpose-built provider jet, referred to as WhiteKnightTwo, and hearth a hybrid rocket motor to achieve an altitude of greater than 50 miles (80 kilometers) into the airless atmosphere on the fringe of area, giving passengers a couple of minutes of weightlessness earlier than descending again to Earth.

With room for 2 pilots and as much as six passengers, the reusable SpaceShipTwo rocket aircraft returns to a touchdown on the identical runway from which it departed.

The VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic’s solely area car at the moment flying, accomplished two check flights above 50 miles Dec. 13 and Feb. 22. Two check pilots helmed the rocket aircraft on the December check flight, and one other Virgin Galactic worker, astronaut coach Beth Moses, rode within the passenger cabin in February to judge the expertise for future business area vacationers.

Whitesides stated the Feb. 22 flight was a “enormous step ahead for the corporate.”

“This step has given us the boldness that it’s the precise time to maneuver the spaceship,” Whitesides stated in remarks Friday in Santa Fe.

SpaceShipTwo fires its rocket motor throughout its Feb. 22 check flight. Credit score: Virgin Galactic / MarsScientific.com / Trumbull Studios

“We have now a bit extra of our flight check program to do, which is able to full in New Mexico,” he stated. “At that time, we will probably be in a spot the place we’ll be capable of begin business operations.”

Whereas Spaceport America formally opened in 2011, employees proceed with remaining outfitting of Virgin Galactic’s coaching amenities, the place area vacationers will put together for his or her flights at Spaceport America, Whitesides stated.

“After a few years of labor, the opposite facet of the inspiration, our floor operations, are on the level that we really feel assured in transferring the autos,” Whitesides stated. “So this summer time, we are going to reposition our area system, consisting of a provider plane, VMS Eve … and spaceship, VSS Unity, from Mojave, California, to Spaceport America.”

Transferring workers to New Mexico over the summer time will decrease household disruptions, particularly for youngsters at school, Whitesides stated.

The provider plane and spaceship will fly to New Mexico as soon as floor groups at The Spaceship Firm, Virgin Galactic’s sister firm, full work on VSS Unity’s cabin inside, in keeping with Whitesides.

The Spaceship Firm will stay based mostly at Mojave to construct a fleet of provider jets and SpaceShipTwo autos for Virgin Galactic’s fleet.

Whitesides stated Virgin Galactic is within the “remaining stretch” of the flight check program for SpaceShipTwo.

“Earlier than business operations start, we might want to end analysis of the brand new outfitted cabin, the expertise and the coaching program for our future astronaut clients,” Whitesides stated. “That’s work we nonetheless need to go.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, Richard Branson and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-New Mexico, throughout Friday’s announcement in Santa Fe. Credit score: Virgin Galactic

Greater than 600 individuals from greater than 50 nations have paid deposits to fly on SpaceShipTwo, a visit that Virgin Galactic sells for $250,000.

Branson himself plans to trip on a SpaceShipTwo flight. In February, he stated he hoped to have the ability to fly by July 20, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon touchdown.

“My very own very first flight is not going to happen till we’ve settled in New Mexico,” Branson stated. “However for as soon as, I’m pleased to attend as a result of flying from Spaceport America is vital to me, as it’s, I believe, to the individuals of New Mexico, who made all of this attainable.”

Email the writer.

Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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