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Virgin Galactic Opens Mission Control For Space Tourism


Virgin Galactic has taken a major step in its space tourism project on Thursday as it unveiled its new Mission Control at a spaceport in New Mexico.

AFP quoted the British spaceflight company's Chief Executive George Whitesides that the first commercial space flight carrying paying passengers is expected to take off within a year.

Virgin Galactic's founder, Richard Branson, had initially suggested that he hoped to see a maiden flight by the end of 2009, but this date has been delayed on a number of occasions, most seriously by an accident in 2014 that killed a co-pilot.

On Thursday, Virgin invited guests to see what it described as the "Gateway to Space" building in New Mexico. Two floors of the building, named Cirrus and Gaia, are primarily focused on spaceflight operations. It also incorporates communal spaces designed for use in the future by Virgin Galactic customers, along with their friends and families.

Virgin Galactic's space fleet will be housed in the Gateway to Space hangar, which is large enough to accommodate two carrier aircraft, each with a wingspan of 140 ft along with five SpaceShipTwo vehicles.

"The unveiling of Gaia and Cirrus brings to life a beautiful, world-first and world-class facility and means that Spaceport America's Gateway to Space is now functionally operational - ready to host the remaining portion of Virgin Galactic's test flight program before welcoming its very first Future Astronauts," the company noted.

Chief Pilot Dave Mackay said that the carrier plane, the VMS Eve, had arrived at the spaceport to begin the next phase of test flight.

"In the coming days, the team will use VMS Eve to fly simulated spaceship launch missions, with pilots and Mission Control ensuring that all in-flight communications and airspace coordination work as planned," he wrote in a blog post.

More than 600 people from across 60 countries have applied to take a tour of the space on a viable spacecraft the company has developed. The future space tourists include Hollywood celebrities.

SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic's suborbital spacecraft, is air launched from beneath a carrier airplane known as White Knight Two.

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