Virgin Galactic this week revealed plans to proceed with a new astronaut campus and training facility after acquiring a parcel of land for the project in New Mexico.
To be located in Sierra County (as pictured above), near Virgin Galactic’s commercial operations headquarters, the site will be home to a new, first-of-its-kind astronaut campus, for exclusive use by Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts. The facility will also be available for up to three guests of ‘Future Astronauts’ in advance of a spaceflight from Spaceport America.
The master plan for the campus will include training facilities, purposeful accommodations, and tailored experiences as well as an observatory, wellness center, recreation activities, and unique dining options — all underpinned by Virgin’s signature hospitality.
Situated near Spaceport America, the campus will sit atop a mesa overlooking the New Mexico landscape. With a focus on sustainability and minimal impact to the surrounding environment, the purpose-driven design of the project will embrace water conservation and re-use, eco-friendly materials, and low carbon mobility as key considerations in the development of the site. The campus is being designed with bold simplicity, function, innovation, and emotional connectivity at the core, paying homage to the region’s spectacular natural vistas.
“At Virgin Galactic, the road to space begins in New Mexico, and we are proud to showcase the state as the launch point for our unique and unparalleled experience,” said Blair Rich, Virgin Galactic President & Chief Business Officer, Commercial and Consumer Operations.
“From the point of sale, our Future Astronauts begin a journey that is curated, high-touch and distinctly Virgin, which will culminate at the astronaut campus and training facility. Customers who buy a ticket today will stay and train here, along with their guests, for five nights. While our Future Astronauts are completing spaceflight training, their guests will live out a tailored itinerary of discovery and educational experiences on the campus and throughout southern New Mexico,” Blair described.
Virgin Galactic plans to complete the build-out in parallel with the expansion and capacity of its fleet – via the next-generation Delta class fleet – at the recently acquired manufacturing facility in Mesa, New Mexico.
Last month, Virgin Galactic revived its alliance with Virtuoso, making a limited number of seats on its spaceflight experience available to the luxury travel network’s global client base.
Commercial launch pushed back again
The announcement this week of the Astronaut Campus came ahead of confirmation that Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight has been postponed by another quarter.
Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier told shareholders overnight [4 August 2022]: “As we prepare to return to the skies, we have put in place many powerful initiatives to drive our long-term success.
“Our agreement with Aurora to develop new motherships, selection of Phoenix as the location for our new Spaceship factory in Phoenix, and acquisition of an incredible land parcel in New Mexico for our Future Astronaut Campus are cornerstone elements of how we will build and operate our global Spaceline.
“While our short-term plans now call for commercial service to launch in the second quarter of 2023, progress on our future fleet continues and many of the key elements of our roadmap are now in place to scale the business in a meaningful way,” Colglazier stated.
Blue Origin operates another successful mission
This news, perhaps strategic, comes as a competitor in the space tourism segment, Blue Origin, operated its sixth commercial human spaceflight, and the 22nd flight for the New Shepard program, on the same day.
That number is significant to Virgin Galactic as it was the same flight number (correlating to the number of flights operated) that transported Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson into space in mid-2021, ‘Unity22’.
Blue Origin’s six-man crew included three “firsts”: the first person into space from Egypt, Sara Sabry; from Portugal, Mário Ferreira; and the first woman, Vanessa O’Brien, to reach extremes on land (Mt. Everest), sea (Challenger Deep), and air (pass the Kármán line) – completing the Explorers’ Extreme Trifecta, a Guinness World Record.
“It’s been just over a year since New Shepard’s first human flight, and we have now flown 31 humans above the Kármán line,” said Phil Joyce, Senior Vice President, New Shepard. “Thank you to these early pioneers in helping us realise our vision of millions of people living and working in space for the benefit of Earth.”