Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America is no longer an empty hangar

Daniel Fowler
August 18, 2019

Virgin Galactic was supposed to have sent its first space tourists into space by Christmas 2018 but that plan didn't pan out.

At an August 15 media event at Spaceport America, located in the New Mexico desert north of the city of Las Cruces, executives showed off the interior of the building as well as demonstrated its ability to handle flight operations.

"We are graduating the facility into commercial service", Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. "It's just a really important day, to share with you some of the progress and to declare operational readiness".

This undated photo shows Virgin Galactic's spaceflight system as it prepares for flight at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Current tenants of Spaceport America include Virgin Galactic, UP Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace.

Virgin Galactic pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Kelly Latimer discuss their morning test flight at Spaceport America near Upham, New Mexico, on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019.

Virgin Galactic posted on social media earlier this week that its main operating base was now at the spaceport.

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The upper Cirrus level of The Gaia lounge of Virgin Galactic's Gateway to Space at Spaceport America. It also revealed the interior of its "Gateway to Space" building at the spaceport. It is released at high altitude by a carrier airplane and then ignites its own engine, travelling at three times the speed of sound. Branson, who founded the venture in 2004, plans to be the first tourist aboard a Virgin Galactic space plane. On-board the SpaceShipTwo will be space for 6 passengers and 2 pilots, that will fly 50 miles above the Earth which is the distance that NASA will classify you as an astronaut.

Over 600 people have already put down a deposit to reserve a seat aboard Virgin's subtotal flights. Moses said in an interview that the company is continuing to outfit the cabin of the vehicle for commercial flights.

VMS Eve will return to Mojave later this year to pick up Spaceship Unity, Mackay said. In a few months, the company expects to move it to New Mexico, where more testing will be done before commercial flights can begin. An elevated digital walkway will also heighten the experience as travelers set out from Spaceport to VSS Unity on the day of their flight.

The second floor also houses the center's pilot corps, an operations desk and a mission briefing room. A small number of test flights are still needed.

Just how soon customers will be filing into Virgin Galactic's newly outfitted digs for the first commercial flights has yet to be determined.

The first floor is called Gaia - the Greek name for Mother Earth - and "serves as the social hub of the building, where everyone is part of the Virgin Galactic family". The space is bathed in a white-and-gray palette meant to represent "light, air and flight". A third-floor "astronaut lounge" will be completed next year.

The interior design reflects the Virgin brand and Branson's personal approach to hospitality, executives said. Virgin Galactic's spaceship development took far longer than expected and had a major setback when its first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.

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