08:36 GMT +323 January 2020
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    Spaceflight company Virgin Galactic is preparing for the transfer of its development and testing activities from Mojave, California, to New Mexico, where Spaceport America is located, signifying that its first commercial flights are just around the corner.

    "This announcement signals the final countdown to a regular commercial spaceflight service for paying passengers and science research from Spaceport America," Virgin Galactic said in a statement Friday. 

    "It follows the great progress in operational readiness at Spaceport, including the completion of the hanger, offices, fuel farm, warehouse and antenna for telemetry and communications, as well as interior fit-out. It also positions New Mexico on the frontline of technological innovation and, as one of the very few places on Earth that plays host to regular human spaceflight launches, a magnet for inward investment," the statement adds.

    According to Virgin Galactic founder and owner Richard Branson, around 100 staff members will begin moving to New Mexico immediately. Once the company carrier aircraft VMS Eve and spaceship VSS Unity are moved to Spaceport America and complete their final test flights from New Mexico, a "full commercial service" for spaceflight will be opened to the public to carry paying civilians into outer space.

    In December 2018 and February 2019, the VSS Unity successfully carried its first passengers into suborbital space. The passengers in the test flights included Mark "Forger" Stucky, Frederick "CJ" Sturckow, Dave Mackay and Mike "Sooch" Masucci, and chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, Space.com reported. 

    Branson plans to be one of the first commercial passengers this year, hopefully on July 16, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission. Passengers will be charged around $250,000 for suborbital flights into outer space.

    The VSS Unity is the second SpaceShipTwo vehicle reach the flight-test phase. The first ​spaceplane, the VSS Enterprise, built by American aerospace company Scaled composites, crashed in a test flight in October 2014, killing one of pilot and seriously injuring another.


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