Billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic's commercial space tourism flight plan got a boost with its winged passenger rocket and over 100 employees readying to move into the new facilities in New Mexico's Spaceport America. It is hoping to begin commercial flights within a year.
The rocket launch site is billed as "the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport." The taxpayer-funded project worth $220 Spaceport America was awaiting Virgin as an anchor tenant and faced an uncertain future as Virgin Galactic's spaceship projects were taking a long time.
On Friday, Branson announced that will move to the new location.
He said the company's plan to explore New Mexico is a milestone "to open up and democratize space." However, the space vehicles manufacturing company, Spaceship Company will remain in Mojave, California.
First commercial flight within a year
According to Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, a few more flight tests are pending. But Whitesides expressed the hope that the first commercial flight will start in a year.
Branson said the relocation is a crucial moment for the company as it hits the "homestretch."
Boost for operational readiness
Virgin Galactic's operational readiness has been bolstered by the success of a series of test flights in the last 6 months. Branson's endeavor began in 2004 after founding Virgin Galactic in the heydays of SpaceShipOne flights.
It faced many challenges, including safety questions on taking people to space after a tragedy hit the company's spacecraft as it splintered and killed the co-pilot, Michael Alsbury.
Reassuring safety standards, in December Virgin Galactic, flew SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 51.4 miles, qualifying the Federal Aviation Administration's definition on a space voyage and was manned by two test pilots.
The feat was repeated in February, with a new pair of test pilots and crew member Beth Moses. The FAA honored the five with commercial astronaut wings.
Notwithstanding the project's delay, the customer confidence in Virgin Galactic's space tourism is growing strong, evident from the scale of booking. Already 700 people booked for tickets and paid $250,000 to fly from New Mexico to the edge of space.
"Our future success as a species rests on the planetary perspective when that planet is viewed from the black sky of space," Branson said.
Branson's vision on space tourism comprises building a series of hotels in space and a network of spaceports so that supersonic, transcontinental travel is only matter of a few hours.
Space analyst Adam Jonas, a managing director of equity research at Morgan Stanley noted that Branson's venture could have an "outsized impact." More so because the social media is so vibrant and can convey the potential of space as a domain for commercial as well as scientific exploration.
Meanwhile, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced Thursday that his space company Blue Origin is getting ready to send a robotic spaceship to the moon. But Bezos did not reveal the details including launch dates.
This article originally appeared in IBTimes US.