Virgin Galactic took a big step away from its test program toward commercial development of space tourism with a move from the high California desert to a purpose-built passenger flight facility in New Mexico. CEO Richard Branson announced Friday that it will be moving a significant part of its operation to a taxpayer-funded spaceport in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. All of the testing of the passenger-carrying space plane and its launch aircraft has taken place at Mojave, California, and that’s just about wrapped up. The business will be conducted at an essentially private $200 million runway and hangar at Truth or Consequences built by the New Mexico government. Virgin Galactic will keep building its aircraft and space vehicles in Mojave.
More than 600 people have put up $200,000 each for a ride to the edge of space, nominally set at about 62 miles high. Branson envisions a new space tourism industry with hotels in space and a network of spaceports allowing global hypersonic flights but he insists it’s not all about bucket list rides for the rich. “Our future success as a species rests on the planetary perspective,” Branson said. “The perspective that we know comes sharply into focus when that planet is viewed from the black sky of space.” The serial entrepreneur billionaire said there’s a practical side to achieving that perspective. “We need the financial impetus to be able to do all that,” he said. “If the space program is successful as I think … then the sky is the limit.”