New Mexico Expects First Operational SpaceShipTwo Flights in February 2014

SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo circle over the Mojave Air and Space Port during a successful glide flight on July 18, 2012. (Credit: Bill Deaver)

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Officials at Spaceport America estimate that Virgin Galactic will make its first operational SpaceShipTwo flights from the New Mexico facility in February 2014.

That estimate is included in a PowerPoint presentation given by New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson on Monday to the NMSA board.

Sir Richard Branson and his family will be on the first operational flight of the eight-person suborbital space plane. Virgin Galactic expects to fly thousands of space tourists from the custom-built facility in the New Mexico desert.

Those first operational flights are expected to bring in $1.3 million in revenues to NMSA, according to budget assumptions. Facilities lease and ground rent payments from Virgin Galactic will bring in an additional $1 million during the FY 2014 fiscal year. Tourists visiting the spaceport will be in additional funds.

“If VG delayed past Feb 2014, NMSA may require additional ‘bridge’ funding” to cover NMSA’s expenses, according to Anderson’s presentation.

SpaceShipTwo has completed 22 glide flights from its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The vehicle is now being fitted with its propellant system in preparation for powered flights expected to begin late this year. Virgin officials have said they hope to begin commercial service by the end of 2013.

Anderson’s presentation says that Phase 1 of the spaceport construction is 99 percent complete. The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal/hangar should be ready for a certificate of occupancy on Oct. 12. The certificate will allow the company to begin outfitting the structure.

The primary projects in Phase 2 are 40 percent complete, according to the presentation. Design work has been completed for a 2,000-foot extension of the runway and the paving of a southern road that will allow more direct access to the spaceport from Las Cruces. Design work for a visitor center at the spaceport will be completed on Dec. 1.

On Monday, the NMSA board approved an $8.5 million contract to A.S. Horner of Albuquerque, N.M., to extend the 10,000-foot runway to 12,000 feet. The extension is required to give SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo more space to land.

The board also approved a $1 million contract with Ashbaugh Construction Company for building a welcome center on a six-acre parcel in Truth or Consequences. Visitors will gather at the welcome center and be bused to the spaceport for tours.

The site is the best value for the state of New Mexico and the best location for a welcome center, with excellent proximity to and visibility from the I-25 highway, according to the presentation. The property is adjacent to Exit 79 and is pad ready for construction.

In selecting this location, the spaceport authority rejected a proposal by Truth or Consequences for a downtown site that city officials said would bring more traffic to businesses there. NMSA officials said the site has a legal provision that prevents its use as a welcome center, a claim that city officials disputed. NMSA’s position was upheld on appeal.

NMSA plans to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for developers of a visitor center at the spaceport in October. A RFP for companies to operate the center will be issued in December, according to the presentation.

View the full presentation (PDF).