Virgin Galactic has completed another vital step on its path to commercial service, relocating SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to its commercial headquarters at Spaceport America’s Gateway to Space building.
VSS Unity, attached to the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, made the journey from Mojave, California, where the company’s manufacturing facilities are based, where it was greeted by an enthusiastic group of teammates who will operate the spaceship in New Mexico.
This captive-carry flight provided an opportunity for engineers to evaluate VSS Unity for over three hours at high altitude and cold temperatures, a longer period of time than is experienced during missions to space. These environmental evaluations of system performance are difficult to replicate at ground level, making captive-carry missions a vital component of VSS Unity’s flight test plan.
The move of the spaceship to Spaceport America – dubbed the ‘Gateway to Space’ – marks a key step in the relocation of Virgin Galactic’s operation to the state of New Mexico from Mojave, California. Almost all of Virgin Galactic’s team have made the move to the Spaceport, which is now operationally ready.
“When Virgin Galactic started moving to New Mexico last year, everyone felt the sheer magnitude of the task ahead, but we were encouraged and excited by the team’s confidence and strong vision for the future,” said George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic. “Today we realised the next step in that dream by bringing our beautiful spaceship to New Mexico.
Whitesides emphasised that there is however still “significant work ahead”.
The relocation of VSS Unity to Spaceport America enables the company to engage in the final stages of its flight test program. This will begin with a number of initial captive carry and glide flights from the new operating base in New Mexico, allowing the spaceflight operations team to familiarise themselves with the airspace and ground control. Once these tests are complete, the team will carry out a number of rocket-powered test flights from Spaceport America to continue the evaluation of VSS Unity’s performance. During this phase, the final spaceship cabin and customer experience evaluations will also be concluded in preparation for the start of commercial spaceflight operations.
The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s design, testing and manufacturing arm, remains firmly rooted in Mojave, California. While VMS Eve and VSS Unity are now based in New Mexico, they will make periodic journeys back to Mojave to support ground and flight tests of new spaceships, as well as for vehicle maintenance and upgrade activities.
Dan Hicks, Spaceport America’s Executive Director, congratulated the Virgin Galactic team, saying “This truly is the dawn of a new era for the commercial space sector. We are tremendously proud of our foundational partner Virgin Galactic – as we see and support their historic progress in making human space flight a reality for our beautiful world.”
All images supplied by Virgin Galactic