ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Experts believe it could be up to five years before Virgin Galactic’s will be able to launch tourists to space from New Mexico.
The crash in the Mojave Desert last week has set the company back big time, and without Virgin Galactic operational, the state could lose millions of dollars.
Virgin Galactic hoped to send people to space from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico by spring of 2015. That was before SpaceShipTwo broke apart in mid-air, killing the co-pilot.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what caused the spaceship to break apart during a test flight over the Mojave Desert last Friday.
Co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed in the accident, and pilot Peter Siebold is in the hospital.
Virgin Galactic CEO and billionaire, Sir Richard Branson, christened the Spaceport in 2011. However, plans to launch tourists 60 miles above the earth have been delayed repeatedly since then.
“All of us are determined to continue, and make sure that we learn from this,” Branson said in a CBS This Morning interview Monday.
“When you’re pushing the boundaries of human achievement as people are doing right now in the commercial space industry, things like this do happen along the way”, said Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.
The Spaceport won’t confirm any new delays, but experts predict it’s imminent.
“Probably an extra 3-5 years”, said Michael Blades, an aerospace analyst with Frost & Sullivan. “In order to get people back and forth, they need to show some sort of safety record, and there’s a whole process in order for that approval to happen.”
The NTSB must complete their investigation, and then there’s rebuilding and re-testing involved.
The Spaceport was relying on money from tourists and from Virgin Galactic for launch fees.
If the company doesn’t launch in 2015, the Spaceport stands to lose approximately $1.5 million each year, plus a loss in expected tourism to the state.
New Mexico spent roughly $220 million to build the operation near Truth or Consequences.
With Virgin Galactic not backing out, Spaceport officials said they’ll stay afloat.
“People keep pushing forward, you learn from every one of these things, and you get better and stronger and you keep going,” said Anderson.
Officials with the Spaceport said there are other tenants that will help fund the operation. However, the Legislative Finance Committee said the Spaceport has gone through most of it’s money.
According to the LFC, in order to make up for any lost money, the state may have to dip into the general fund. Anderson told News 13 the Spaceport has no intention of furloughing or laying off any employees.
Virgin Galactic said they have no intention of backing out of plans to send people to space.
In fact, Branson claims that on the day of the crash two more people, “payed up in full to go to space as a gesture of good will towards Virgin Galactic.” Nearly 800 people have paid the $250,000 ticket cost to space.