Virgin Galactic has announced that it is preparing for its first suborbital spaceflight from its Spaceport America complex in New Mexico, bringing it one step closer to achieving its goal of providing viable space tourism and research flights.
"We expect our first spaceflight from Spaceport America to occur later this fall," the company explained in a press release.
Though no specific date has yet been given for the first spaceflight to launch from Spaceport America, the flight planning window has been confirmed to start on October 22, 2020, meaning the launch could happen from next week onwards.
Flight window confirmed for Spaceport America
Back in September, CNBC found FCC filings revealing Virgin Galactic's plans for the last round of tests on its spacecraft SpaceShipTwo, also known as VSS Unity.
Now, the aerospace company, founded by Richard Branson, has confirmed those plans in a press release, with the spacecraft's flight window opening on October 22.
The company explained that its preparations include a rigorous pilot training phase using a ground-based simulator, as well as its carrier aircraft VMS Eve. VMS Eve, which will carry SpaceShipTwo to the skies, is supposed to handle much like SpaceShipTwo itself, meaning the mission pilots will fly it as part of their training operations.
A crucial month for Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two spacecraft has flown to space twice in the past. In 2019, the chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses flew alongside the mission's two pilots in the company's first crewed test flight.
The next flight is significant, however, as it will be the first spaceflight leaving from Virgin Galactic's new headquarters in Spaceport America, New Mexico, where it moved to from California last year.
The Southwest Research Institute also announced that one of its planetary scientists, Dr. Alan Stern, will be sent into space in a future Virgin Galactic flight. Stern will conduct NASA-funded research while onboard, including operating a NASA F-18 low light level camera to determine whether astronomical observations can be effectively conducted from the spacecraft.
As Virgin Atlantic explained in its press release for the upcoming SpaceShip Two launch, "the flight will be crewed by two of our pilots and will carry several research payloads in the cabin of VSS Unity." The next month may prove to be crucial in determining the company's future in space tourism and research.