TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Virgin Galactic says it now has the all clear to offer space flights out of New Mexico.
But the big question still remains: when will they start?
Virgin Galactic announced Thursday that it has gotten the green light to fly its spaceships through Federal airspace in New Mexico. Now, the Spaceport says all it has to do is wait and they’re still operating under an assumption that Virgin Galactic will start flying commercially by the end of the year.
Through the years, New Mexicans have seen it all on video. British billionaire Sir Richard Brandon spilling champagne, wowing crowds with a spaceship and making friends with two of New Mexico’s very different governors.
“What do you think of this Spaceport America?! Is this great or what?!” exclaimed Governor Bill Richardson in 2010 when the runaway construction was completed.
“Isn’t this an absolutely gorgeous day in the Land of Enchantment?!” exclaimed Governor Susana Martinez in January 2013 when the Spaceport hanger was completed.
While New Mexico has lived up to its end of the deal, Sir Richard Branson has yet to deliver on his big promise of space tourism.
In a promotional video for the business released In October 2013, Branson said, “Virgin Galactic is on track to become the world’s first commercial space flight agency.”
Still though, Virgin’s Spaceship hasn’t carried anyone to zero gravity either in California or New Mexico, where flights were already supposed to be taking off from the state’s multi-million dollar Spaceport.
So is it a bust or is something finally developing at the Spaceport? Officials say the new deal with Feds over airspace indicates good things.
“It’s pretty exciting, it also indicates we’re a step closer to when they’re going to start flying here,” said Christine Anderson, Executive Director of Spaceport America.
Anderson says Virgin’s deal is critical to fly, allowing their spaceship to travel through Federal airspace in New Mexico.
“It allows them to be able to fly from Spaceport America you know because the White Knight Two, which is their carrier craft.. and in fact the rocket on the way down when it glides down will go through part of the national air space system,” said Anderson.
Anderson says the deal is similar to one Virgin Galactic already has in California where it has already flown three test flights.
The Spaceport says the agreement is New Mexico’s last hurdle.
“We’re golden. We’ve got our runaways completed and our terminal hanger facility,” said Anderson.
Now, the wait is on Virgin to figure out when it’s ready to fly.
“We’re still hoping it’s this calendar year I believe that’s what they’ve said in the press and their anticipating,” said Anderson.
But with such a long wait for a return on investment, can the Spaceport really still trust Virgin? Anderson says yes.
“When you put it in the course of history, we are… we are going very quickly I believe, I mean this is not an easy task,” said Anderson.
Anderson says Virgin Galactic has about 10 people working at the Spaceport now. She says the company is also working on building up the area where astronauts will train and wait for flights.
While Virgin Galactic has indicated it should fly by the end of the year, some reports online say flights may be delayed until 2015 due to defects in the ship’s design.
According to Virgin, about 700 people have already signed up for the space flights, which are supposed to cost about $250,000 a seat.