The Latest: Virgin Galactic enters ‘home stretch’ of tests

The Latest on advances toward space tourism by Virgin Galactic (all times local):

12:20 p.m.

Virgin Galactic is not setting a launch date yet for its first commercial space tourism flight as it begins moving 100 personnel, a rocket ship and launch-support vehicle to a spaceport facility in New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said Friday that an interior cabin is being tested for commercial operations and that a small, undisclosed number of test flights are pending.

Pilots are among the personnel moving from California to begin acclimating to flying conditions above the high desert in southern New Mexico.

Whitesides says the company is in the “home stretch” toward its first commercial space flight and declined to specify deadlines.

He joined Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson in thanking New Mexico politicians and residents for their patience and taxpayer investments in the Spaceport America hangar and launch facility.

Branson envisions a future with hotels in space and near-space transcontinental flights but cautioned that “we need the financial impetus to do all that.”


9:30 a.m.

British billionaire Richard Branson is taking another concrete step toward offering rides into the close reaches of space for paying passengers.

Branson announced Friday that Virgin Galactic will immediately begin shifting operations from California to a spaceport and specialized runway in the New Mexico desert in final preparations for commercial flights.

He says Virgin Galactic’s development and testing program has advanced enough to make the move, which will continue through the summer.

In February, a new version of Virgin Galactic’s winged craft SpaceShipTwo soared at three times the speed of sound to an altitude of nearly 56 miles (99 kilometers) in a test flight over Southern California.

New Mexico has been anticipating the arrival of space tourism for more than a decade. Taxpayers have invested over $200 million in Spaceport America’s specialized launch and landing facilities.

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