Michael Colglazier, chief executive officer of Virgin Galactic, has announced USS Unity will head into space with humans on board from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico between Nov. 19 and 23.
The rocket-powered test flight with two pilots will substantially complete the final FFA verification and validation elements licensing requirements, he said, adding that the flight also will generate revenue from NASA payloads.
“This is the first ever human spaceflight to depart from the state of New Mexico,” Colglazier said. “This is a huge milestone for the people of New Mexico.”
He said two additional flights are scheduled in the first quarter of 2021, the first with four company employees, including the pilots, make final checks before boarding passengers, including Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson and others.
“At this stage, we’re on track for these three flights,” Colglazier said. “It will take a number of activities to complete, and weather could affect this plan.”
Bringing the plan to fruition in 2020 during the COVID-19 has been a challenge, he said.
“Building spaceships during a pandemic is materially less efficient than normal,” he said. “But our team members have stepped up to continue progress on our key initiatives while working under stringent COVID-19 protocols. While many tasks involved in building the spaceship involve close quarters work, this type of work is still progressing, although slower than expected.”
Not only is SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity ready to go to space, a second SpaceShipTwo is well on the way to being completed, Colglazier said.
“The first chapter was a difficult task,” he said. “The next chapter is to use this system to bring thousands of people to space and deliver our purpose of opening space to change the world for good.”
He said the goal is to take passengers to space not once a month or once a week but up to 400 flights a year.
“The approaches we are taking suggests we could generate meaningful revenues of a billion dollars a year per spaceport,” he said. “And a fully utilized spaceport can create an incredibly powerful economic engine. First to New Mexico and then with great appeal in other locations across the world.”
Following Branson’s flight, passenger ticket sales will open up once more. There are already 600 “future astronauts” who have purchased space experiences, paying $250,000 each, and an additional 300 who have indicated an interest in being next. Those 300 will be contacted first.
“During my first three months at the company, I have been continually impressed with the team and the tremendous work that has gone into making the dream of commercial spaceflight a reality,” Colglazier said. “I’m excited and confident in our ability to execute our vision and provide transformative experiences to people around the world.”