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The head of New Mexico’s Spaceport Authority told a special US investigation committee that she was hoping Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic ‘SpaceShip Two’ sub-orbital space plane would start regular commercial flights next summer, but not before July.
However, Christine Anderson added something of a sting in the tail of her answer by saying that her response had been an assumption. “It doesn’t mean I know any more than anyone else, but I had to base my budget on something.”
Branson’ rocket plane suffered a catastrophic failure in October last year that cost the life of its pilot. That happened in the Mojave Air & Space Port in California. Nevertheless, Virgin Galactic is an anchor tenant at the New Mexico desert site. Other tenants include Elon Musk’s SpaceX, while UP Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace also have facilities at the site.
Virgin Galactic has told the Federal Aviation Administration that it has more than 400 reservations for passengers waiting to be launched into sub-orbital space.
The US taxpayer has coughed up millions of dollars to ready the all-new spaceport, in Upham, New Mexico, in anticipation that Virgin Galactic, and others, would be regular clients at the base by now. The committee heard that another $1.2 million would likely be needed to keep the base open pending commercial usage starting.
The base has already enjoyed some business, and over the past few years has actually launched 23 conventional – although small – rockets. It is also used for those wishing to test aerial drones, and for making TV commercials and university rocket tests – and enjoys about 50,000 visitors a year to look over its site. She told the committee that visitor numbers will likely increase to around 100,000 a year by 2020.
Branson is also involved with Greg Wyler, and Qualcomm, in the OneWeb consortium which plans on launching some 650 small satellites into space starting in 2018-2019. The satellites will be used to boost broadband connectivity around the planet.