Virgin Galactic has had several successful test flights, but there’s no indication when its first actual commercial flight will be. The fit-out of the interior of the building indicates it might be imminent.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on August 19, 2019

If you have US$357,000 to fly to space, this is where you and your loved ones will wait – Gateway to Space, known as Spaceport America, for the space trips by Virgin Galactic.

Looking rather dated, with a 1960s cafe chic look, this is where you will go and drink coffee and tea, perhaps have a bite to eat, before boarding Sir Richard Branson‘s space ship, Virgin Galactic, in the desert in New Mexico.

The start of the interactive Astronaut Walk at the Gateway to Space, Spaceport America, New Mexico.

The interior fit-out of Virgin Galactic’s Gateway to Space reveals two floors of a building primarily focused on spaceflight operations and incorporating communal spaces.

“Completion of this interior work means the spaceport facility is now operationally functional and able to support Virgin Galactic’s flight requirements,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement. “One of the hallmarks of the Virgin brand for over nearly half a century has been the use of inspired and bold design to transform customer experiences. It is an ethos that has been successfully applied across industrial sectors and design disciplines.

“Virgin Galactic has striven to remain faithful to that tradition by choosing an elegant, experience-focused concept for the space launch system itself. Similarly, the company’s choice to operate from Spaceport America in New Mexico was due in no small part to the state’s decision to commission landmark architecture for the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

“The first floor is focused on our home planet, and is named Gaia, representing the point of departure and return, as well as the purpose of each astronaut’s journey. An elevated, interactive digital walkway will heighten the departure experience for the future astronauts and their friends and family as they set out from Spaceport to VSS Unity on the day of flight,” said Virgin Galactic.

“Gaia is subtly and unobtrusively zoned into practical, formal and informal spaces which will host the space operations team, Future Astronauts and their family and friends. It serves as the social hub of the building, where everyone is part of the Virgin Galactic family; future astronauts will share breakfast with spaceship pilots, grab coffee with rocket engineers and pass the time of day with the team from Mission Control.”

The second floor has been named Cirrus, representing light, air and flight.

“It is the beating heart of spaceflight operations and is connected to the community hub of Gaia below through a double-height atrium. The colour palette graduates from the earthy tones below in Gaia to lighter white and grey shades, reflecting the skies beyond and providing a clean environment supporting operational focus,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

“This area is home to Mission Control, the Mission Briefing Room, the Pilot Corps and the rest of the Flight Operations team.”

The Cirrus Level of the Gateway to  Space – the beating heart of spaceflights.

Virgin Galactic had been carrying out test flights from Mohave, California, including the first successful launch of its tourism rocket plane into space in December last year.

More than 600 people have already paid US$114.6 million in deposits to Virgin Galactic to secure their tickets on the first spaceflights.

Sir Richard previously said he would fly in one his firm’s space planes this year, with the first commercial flights a few months later.

Virgin Galactic was founded by Sir Richard in 2004, and initially predicted the maiden space flight would launch by 2009. The date has been repeatedly pushed back.

A successful maiden flight manned by two pilots took place in mid-December 2018. Virgin Galactic will take passengers more than 80km above Earth aboard SpaceShipTwo, a spaceplane capable of carrying six passengers and two pilots. SpaceShipTwo is carried into the sky by a large aeroplane before breaking away and zooming to an altitude of about 100km.

Virgin Galactic announced last month its merger with New York-listed Social Capital Hedosophia to become the first and only publicly traded commercial human spaceflight company.