Virgin Galactic Prepares For First Space Flight From New Mexico

Virgin Galactic is busy gearing up for a spaceflight from New Mexico. While reluctant to put an exact date on the flight, only nominating a day sometime this Fall, Virgin Galactic says it is edging closer to a takeoff. The flight, which will be operated by two pilots, will carry NASA payloads and test inflight systems and procedures.

Virgin Galactic is gearing up for its next spaceflight from New Mexico. Photo: Virgin Galactic

“We are currently preparing for the first spaceflight from our operational base at Spaceport America in New Mexico, which will occur later this fall.  The flight will be crewed by two of our pilots and will carry several research payloads in the cabin of VSS Unity,” says Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic taps into history with its New Mexico flights

Spaceport America, formerly known as the Southwest Regional Spaceport, is next door to the US Army’s White Sands missile range in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin in New Mexico. The spaceport serves as a training facility for Virgin Galactic’s astronauts, a home for their spacecraft, and the flight control center.

Virgin Galactic is keen to point out the spaceport’s historical links with spaceflight. They say the first photo of Earth from space, taken in 1946, came from a rocket launched from New Mexico. But Virgin Galactic also points out no person has ever traveled to space from New Mexico. It plans to change that real soon.

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Flying high over Spaceport America in New Mexico. Photo: Virgin Galactic

But nothing’s guaranteed when it comes to spaceflights. Virgin Galactic’s President of Space Missions and Safety, Mike Moses, says;

“While we are planning for (pilots) CJ and Dave to reach space, if test conditions on the day suggest a shorter burn, that’s fine, and we’ll return to fly again soon.

“The spaceflight system is designed for a rapid commercial turnaround, so it is much better to stay on the side of caution and return to base to understand the data and prepare for another test flight.”

What the next Virgin Galactic spaceflight will achieve

Operating the next Virgin Galactic spaceflight will be Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and CJ Sturckow. Both have made several flights into space. This time, their job will be to verify several key points inflight and get the test flight program into the next stage.

That includes testing the full suite of internal cabin cameras and the future capability to stream live footage from the spaceship down to the ground. They will also fully recline all the passenger seats once in space. Why is this important? When Virgin Galactic is carrying paying passengers, they’ll want all the room they can get to float in zero gravity.

“We anticipate that this upcoming flight will provide some of the data for us to close out our final two verification reports required by the FAA to remove the remaining proviso in our current commercial spaceflight license,” says Mike Moses.

VSS Unity on the ground in New Mexico. Photo: Virgin Galactic

Three NASA payloads will be onboard, flown through NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. In space, the pilots will pitch the vehicle 270 degrees following boost to get to the entry attitude as soon as possible. In turn, this will maximize time for the payloads to remain in data-collection mode. Carrying the payloads means this upcoming spaceflight will generate revenue for Virgin Galactic.

There’s still a while to go before paying passengers can climb aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceflight. After the flight this fall, Virgin Galactic will proceed to the next phase of testing. This will involve flying four mission specialists in the cabin to test and refine the equipment, procedures, training and overall experience.

What do you think of Virgin Galactic and its space ambitions? Is it folly or the future? Post a comment and let us know.