At a press conference on 10 May, Virgin Galactic CEO Sir Richard Branson announced that the company’s development and testing program had “advanced sufficiently to move its spaceline staff and space vehicles” from Mojave, California, to its commercial operations headquarters at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Speaking at the New Mexico State Capitol Building in Santa Fe, at an event hosted by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Branson said that the move, which involves over 100 staff would begin immediately and continue through summer to minimize schooling disruption for families.
According to Virgin Galactic, this move signals “the final countdown to a regular commercial spaceflight service for paying passengers and science research” at Spaceport America, and follows recent development of the site, including “the completion of the hanger, offices, fuel farm, warehouse and antenna for telemetry and communications, as well as interior fit-out”.
Over the next few months, the company said it plans to “reposition its space system consisting of carrier aircraft VMS Eve and spaceship VSS Unity” from Mojave to Spaceport America “once cabin interior and other work has been completed by Virgin Galactic’s sister manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company (TSC)”.
TSC will remain based in Mojave to continue building Virgin Galactic’s planned fleet of SpaceShipTwo and carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo vehicles. Virgin Galactic said it plans to complete final test flights from New Mexico in anticipation of commencing a full commercial service for transporting passengers and research payloads into space.
Virgin Galactic partnered with the state of New Mexico in an agreement that saw the construction of Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, and the company committing to base its commercial spaceflight activities there once it was ready to commence service.
“Our Virgin Galactic adventure has been intertwined with New Mexico and Spaceport America right from the start and our stories have unfolded together,” Branson said in a statement. “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 . . . spaceline,” he added. “Virgin Galactic is coming home to New Mexico where together we will open space to change the world for good.”
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and TSC, noted that the first photograph of Earth from space was taken over New Mexico in October 1946.
“How inspiring and appropriate that the state will soon host the first regular commercial spaceflight service, which will enable thousands of people to see Earth from space with their own eyes, “ he said. “We are deeply grateful to the citizens and leadership of New Mexico for having the vision to create a better future for their children and all of humanity.”
“Going to space and exploring the universe is a team effort,” Dan Hicks, CEO of Spaceport America, added. “It takes strong partnerships that are courageous and also vulnerable. Sir Richard’s visionary leadership to take meaningful risks along with New Mexico leadership’s far-sighted commitment – epitomizes the successful partnerships that are truly needed for the space industry.”