Virgin Galactic Settles in New Mexico Before Moving into Space

An artist's impression of SpaceShipTwo dropping from the mother ship just before igniting its rocket. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites

As Virgin Galactic moves steadily closer to its goal of launching the first ticket-carrying passengers into suborbital space next year, the company is setting up the infrastructure it needs to make that happen. After years of operating out of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the company added a new office site as an official complement its operations at Spaceport America on June 7.

“Virgin Galactic is proud to be a contributor to the New Mexico economy and the local community,” said George Whitesides, President and CEO of Virgin Galactic. “As we open our new offices and expand our team here, we intend to help create new opportunity through hospitality and tourism that will feature New Mexico on an international stage.”

Virgin Galactic’s new Las Cruces location at the LEED-certified Green Offices Building. Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic

The company has already started drawing attention to itself and its New Mexico home. In October 2010, Virgin Galactic brought more than 70 high-end travel agents from around the world to learn about the areas surrounding Spaceport America. A year later, it hosted over 600 media, customers, and VIPs to commemorate the dedication of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space Building.

Events like these have an obvious benefit for the community, bringing economic benefits for local sectors such as accommodations, catering, and transportation. Not to mention that with Virgin Galactic’s international reputation these types of events showcase the region to a global audience. The company’s own travel agents also have a clear reason to promote the region.

But it’s more than just guests of Virgin Galactic that bring money into Las Cruces. According to a recent company survey more than 50 percent of Virgin Galactic’s astronauts have already visited southern New Mexico and averaged a stay of three to five nights in areas neighboring Spaceport America. The survey also showed that when Virgin Galactic customers visit New Mexico for their spaceflights from Spaceport America, they intend to bring an average of five guests with them to share the experience.

From left to right, fourth from the left, New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board Chairman Rick Holdridge, Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagashima and Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides alongside Virgin Galactic team members. Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic

Opening the new Virgin Galactic offices, Whitesides said, is an element of an on-going campaign focused on anchoring a company presence in New Mexico, tied to the beginning of suborbital space hops from Spaceport America.

And that beginning is on the horizon. Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration granted Scaled Composites, the company behind Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo passenger-carrying suborbital space plane fleet, an experimental launch permit. SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo have the green light for the project’s next major milestone: powered test flights.

This permit is an important milestone that bring Virgin Galactic “a major step closer to bringing our customers to space,” said Whitesides. SpaceShipTwo is the first rocket-powered vehicle designed to fly customers willing and able to pay the $200,000 price tag. The six-passenger, two-pilot vessel’s flight will eventually be carried out at New Mexico’s Spaceport America.

From left to right, New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board Chairman Rick Holdridge, Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagashima and Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides at the Virgin Galactic Las Cruces office opening. Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic

Already, SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo are both making progress in their test flight programs. With 80 test flights completed WhiteKnightTwo is substantially through its test plan. The more recently constructed SpaceShipTwo has completed 16 free flights, including three that tested the vehicle’s unique “feathering” re-entry system. SpaceShipTwo’s full scale rocket motor has also gone through successful tests, including full duration burns.

With an exciting launch schedule around the corner, Virgin Galactic is solidifying its growing presence in New Mexico. With its new offices established, the company plans to create and fill several positions in diverse roles as it prepares for commercial operations at Spaceport America.

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