With the exception of a slight weather delay, it was a seemingly flawless flight in history with the whole world.
Virgin Galactic’s mothership VMS Eve, with VSS Unity attached, took off from Spaceport America at 8:40 a.m. last Sunday with company founder Richard Branson, two pilots and three other crew members strapped into the Unity cabin. Forty-five minutes later, Unity broke away, fired its engines, and fired into space before gently descending to a landing on the Spaceport runway, a giant leap toward commercial passenger service in the space.
âWelcome to the dawn of a new space age,â Branson said to cheers after landing.
The cheers were well deserved, for both Virgin Galactic and New Mexico officials – starting with the then governor. Bill Richardson – who had the vision and the determination to invest, with political capital and taxpayer dollars, on a potential new industry. âIt was a long shot,â said Richardson. âWe waited a long time and it took patience. But we stuck with it. “
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It involved more than $ 225 million from state coffers to build the futuristic spaceport and find the money to keep it running even as Branson’s company struggled to master the technology for Sunday’s epic flight. . As Richardson said, Branson did his part after their famous handshake deal in the wilderness. Virgin Galactic invested over $ 1 billion and overcame a tragic test flight accident in 2014. It took 17 long years from a business visit to London by Richardson’s Director of Economic Development, Rick Homans , to reach the point of Sunday’s flight.
Richardson and Homans both said now is the time to step up New Mexico’s efforts for space tourism. âNew Mexico is going to have to be even more aggressive and more visionary to stay ahead,â said Homans.
Alicia Keyes, the current Secretary of State for Economic Development, is in the game. âWe have been preparing for this for over 16 years and now is the time to focus on the future of space tourism, which can attract many more businesses from the spaceport,â she said. âIt’s about diversifying our economy.
If things go as planned, it’s not far.
Virgin Galactic plans to begin commercial service for revenue passengers early next year, after a four-month hiatus for upgrades and maintenance on both Unity and the mothership. Hundreds of people have signed up to buy tickets for $ 250,000 apiece, including A-Listers like Tom Hanks, Katy Perry and Brad Pitt.
Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos will fly on July 29 from West Texas with three passengers aboard the New Shepard rocket, kicking off the commercial department of his company, Blue Origin. And Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to launch four passengers in September for a three-day orbital flight around Earth.
So the competition that Virgin Galactic has declared to be both welcome and essential for the industry is already here.
An initiative announced last week is one example of how New Mexico is working to capitalize on last Sunday’s historic feat. NewSpace New Mexico announced the launch of a new innovation center in Albuquerque to develop the state’s space industry. Called Unite and Ignite Space, it is housed in an 8,700 square foot facility near the Albuquerque International Access Port and will provide collaborative workspaces, access to resources, meeting spaces and networking events for facilitate collaborations between space companies and government agencies.
Unite and Ignite was created through a partnership including NewSpace, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the COSMIAC Space Research Center at the University of New Mexico. It’s backed by $ 11 million in federal funding that Senator Martin Heinrich, DN.M., helped secure. âThis is truly the start of something great for our nation and for the world,â said Heinrich.
So yes, we have momentum. Networks and news channels covered Sunday’s launch live, people gathered at surveillance nights, and vehicles began to enter the access road to Spaceport America at 3:30 a.m. launch. El Paso’s John and Delia Comacho were among those who preferred to see the event live on TV or stream. Delia Comacho said watching the mothership take to the skies carrying Unity on its space trip âgave me a sense of hope. It’s like a new frontier.
It is indeed. It started as a Richardson and Branson bet, but now we find ourselves on the edge of a border with challenges and opportunities for a better economy and a better world that we cannot yet imagine.
For perspective, it was on December 17, 1903, that Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, NC Considered a remarkable achievement, during their fourth test, their plane was flew at 852 feet and remained in the air for 59 seconds. Now we are on the eve of space tourism, discussions of suborbital flights connecting space ports around the world, and even a mission to Mars.
In the words of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, “the sky is no longer the limit”.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the journal rather than that of the authors.