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Virgin Galactic Outlines Plans for Move to Spaceport America

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 14, 2014
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Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America

Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America

While engineers in Mojave prepare WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo for another round of test flights, others in the company are preparing to ramp up operations at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic senior program manager Mark Butler recently provided a status report to the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce. The Las Cruces Bulletin reports:

Currently, there are five pilots ready to go, and they need four for operations. By the time Virgin Galactic is ready to launch the space tourism program, it will have eight fully trained pilots.Butler said Virgin Galactic is working with spaceport management to try to get some testing in New Mexico. He said the flight operations software is a product of Ultramain in Albuquerque, world leaders in aircraft software using local companies to support ongoing operations.

“SpaceShip is fine,” he said. “We are testing powered flights. We are testing theory, turing it into practical application.”

The ship has so far hit a maximum speed of 1.4 mach and has exceeded 71,000 feet in height, Butler said. SpaceShip’s wings fold to 60 percent on reentry.

“We are developing rocket motors from scratch,” he said. “It is no mean feat. We know that type of engine has limited capabilities so we are also developing our own liquid rocket engines as well. That is what takes time. We have to get through the development stage happening now in California.”

Butler said they are working in Las Cruces also to prepare spaceport for operations later this year and the construction of the interior of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building should be complete by late summer.

“The key thing is the team is getting ready to move,” he said. “We have eight people in the Las Cruces office with their families coming. In total, about 80 employees are moving to this area, Right now, we have two in the office from New Mexico.”

To Learn More

Officials share plans for Spaceport: 2014 to be a year of testing
The Las Cruces Bulletin

Spaceport America: ready, set, wait
Albuquerque Business First