February 19, 2020

By Chris McKee, KRQE – Could 2020 be the year commercial space flights finally launch from New Mexico’s nearly quarter-billion-dollar Spaceport?

A top state official now says takeoff may be a lot closer than you think after Virgin Galactic moved its only fully-functional spaceship out to New Mexico last week.

While there was no flashy press conference for the arrival of SpaceShipTwo known as “Unity,” New Mexico’s Lieutenant Governor Howie Morales says the spaceship’s arrival is a huge sign that the long-promised space tourism business is nearly ready to launch.

“We know New Mexico is on the cusp of something grand,” Morales said in an interview with KRQE News 13 Tuesday.

Virgin Galactic announced last Thursday the company has permanently relocated SpaceShipTwo Unity to its new home at the Spaceport, where the company has a lease through 2028.

The announcement means the actual spaceship that’s expected to carry passengers and the spaceship’s carrier aircraft called “VMS Eve” are now both stationed in New Mexico. Both the aircraft and the spacecraft are needed for Virgin Galactic to take tourists to space and begin their business in earnest.

The moves come as New Mexicans have been waiting for a decade to see Virgin Galactic to takeoff.

At a news conference in 2010 celebrating the completion of the Spaceport’s runway, Governor Bill Richardson predicted the space tourism business would make the state “a leader in the space age.”

At the same 2010 news conference, Virgin Galactic’s Founder Sir Richard Branson said “the spaceline is a year or so away,” after saying the carrier aircraft and spacecraft would “soon be moved to New Mexico.”

“I understand some of the questions that might have been there,” Morales said delays to Virgin’s promised activity at Spaceport. “But I also see where we’re at right now, and the work that’s taken place.”

Calling the relocation of the spaceship “significant,” Morales says he believes the Spaceport is truly “almost there” in seeing its primary tenant Virgin Galactic takeoff.

“It (shows) how much further along that we are, where before, we really couldn’t see any of the timelines that were going to be met,” Morales said of the spaceship’s arrival.

Virgin Galactic says more than 100 employees are now living and working in New Mexico, most of whom live in Las Cruces.

The company hasn’t committed to a launch date, but commented about the role of spaceship’s arrival last week

“We’re able to now embark on the final phase of the test flight program at the Spaceport,” said George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic.

Lt. Gov. Morales has his own prediction about what’s next with Virgin Galactic.

“I’m confident in saying that within 12 months, I believe that we’ll have our first launch,” Morales said.

Wall Street investors are also feeling confident in Virgin Galactic. The company’s stock price has tripled in value since the start of 2020.

Virgin Galactic’s lease at the New Mexico Spaceport (Spaceport America) lasts through 2028. The company is paying the state roughly $3-million each year but is expected to pay more once Virgin’s actual commercial spaceflights begin.

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