Virgin Galactic's home for tourist spaceflights is go for launch

Andrew Cummings
August 18, 2019

Virgin Galactic just opened the doors to Gateway to Space, a new high-tech facility for tourist spaceflights, at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The company declined to say when customer flights would begin, following years of faulty prognostication from Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who has said he will be among the first to fly.

Virgin Galactic on Thursday declared Spaceport America "operationally functional" and transferred all its spaceflight operations to this facility.

An interactive walkway at Virgin Galactic's Gateway to Space at Spaceport America. It can accommodate both vertical and horizontal launch aerospace vehicles.

Following two successful test missions of its rocket-powered spaceplane over the last few months, the company announced in May that it was ready to move 100 of its workers to the New Mexico spaceport.

Whitesides said that once the test flights are complete, commercial operations can begin. It will also undertake suborbital launches for space science missions for NASA and scientific institutions worldwide.

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.

The first phase of the the passenger amenities includes an elegantly appointed little restaurant and café. One floor, however, is dedicated towards passengers and their comfort.

Virgin Galactic had been carrying out test flights from Mojave, California, including the first successful launch of its tourism rocket plane into space in December previous year.

"The Foster + Partners Gateway to Space facility pays homage to the past in its respect for the ancient surrounding landscape while powerfully embracing the future through energy efficiency and sustainability", Virgin Atlantic said. "She got up a couple times and moved around, she was able to verify our cabin conditions".

The second story has employee work spaces, largely for meals and socializing, as well as mission control. Their arrival represents a resurrection of New Mexico's $200-million investment in the endeavor, one that has garnered no shortage of derisive assessments.

The second floor's theme is flight and the skies: dubbed "Cirrus" after the wispy upper-atmospheric clouds, the gray-and-white toned space houses spaceflight operations, mission control and briefing rooms. "The pilots will replicate some of SpaceShipTwo's low-altitude flight profile and familiarize themselves with the New Mexico airspace and landmarks".

The hanger is sandwiched between the center's east and west wings, and is large enough to fit two mother ships, each with 140-foot wingspans, plus five passenger spaceships. 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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