Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America

… held an event to celebrate the completion of the New Mexico spaceport’s new 10,000ft runway. Spaceport America is actively recruiting for a deputy director who will handle the operational issues with the spaceport, a position Homans called “one of the plum jobs” for someone with spaceflight operations experience.

“Governor Richardson, you and I stood five years ago and shook hands on a simple pledge,” recalled Sir Richard Branson: the state would build the spaceport and Virgin would headquarter its operations there. “You’ve kept your word, and I like to say I’ve kept my end of the bargain as well.”

That was the prelude to the main event of the ceremony: a flyover by Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft, with the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) suborbital spacecraft attached between the plane’s twin fuselages. For nearly a half-hour the aircraft swooped over the spaceport, making passes low over the runway and soaring above the terminal building, to cheers and applause from the audience.

(…) Branson interrupted the proceedings. “I rang the pilot of the spaceship and said, ‘Look, we’ve got a runway here. Why are you going back to Mojave? Why can’t you come and sort of show it off?’ I’m not sure I managed to persuade him, but maybe we could all sort of put some vibes up in the sky.” What followed was the odd spectacle of several hundred people shaking their hands, clapping, and stomping their feet, all at the insistence of Branson, to try and get WK2 and SS2 to return.

At first nothing happened, and the press conference resumed. Several minutes later, though, he again called on the audience to clap and cheer and, sure enough, the aircraft returned to the skies, this time to land on the runway and taxi up near the stage for a round of photo ops with Branson and Richardson.

(…) Virgin, as typical for them, shied away from specific timelines or schedules for bringing the system into service, although Branson said it would be “somewhere between 9 and 18 months” before commercial flights began at Spaceport America. That schedule, he said, would be dependent on the outcome of the extensive test program planned, including additional glide tests and powered test flights. “If you’re building a commercial spaceship program, you’ve got to offer return tickets,” he quipped. “So we just want to be absolutely sure we’ve got the program absolutely right; we’re giving ourselves the flexibility not to be rushed.”

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