by Douglas Messier
Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve mothership returned to the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Saturday for the start of 8-10 months of upgrades and repairs. The dual fuselage airplane flew from its operating base at Spaceport America in New Mexico to the spaceport where it was built and first flew 13 years ago on Dec. 21, 2008.
VME Eve flew without SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which is also due for an overhaul in the months ahead. Virgin Galactic acknowledged WhiteKnightTwo’s return to Mojave on Twitter, but gave no reason why the suborbital space plane was not returned to Mojave at this time.
After upgrades are completed, Virgin Galactic plans to conduct two additional suborbital flight tests beginning next summer. One flight will carry three Italian researchers, who will conduct microgravity experiments. The second and final flight test will carry four company employees to evaluate the passenger experience.
Virgin Galactic plans to begin carrying passengers on commercial suborbital flights in late 2022. The flights would come 18 years after Sir Richard Branson announced plans to develop SpaceShipTwo in September 2004. Commercial flights were then scheduled to begin as early as 2007.
The relocation of WhiteKnightTwo came 10 days prior to Virgin Galactic reporting third quarter financial results on Nov. 8. The company is expected to report another large loss because of continued delays in VSS Unity‘s flight test program.
When Virgin Galactic went public on Oct. 28, 2019, the company was projecting commercial flights to begin in June 2020. That schedule has slipped about 2.5 years in the last two years.