Virgin Galactic prepares for low-key first spaceflight from New Mexico

When Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo takes to the skies above New Mexico later this month, it will do so without the crowds and publicity once expected for the historic flight. Virgin Galactic announced Dec. 1 that is had rescheduled a powered test flight of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane for a window that opens Dec. 11 from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Pilots CJ Sturckow and David Mackay will fly the vehicle on trajectory that will go above the 80-kilometer altitude that the company defines as space, based on the altitude U.S. government agencies use for awarding astronaut wings. The vehicle will then glide to a landing at the spaceport.|

Virgin had scheduled the launch for last month, but postponed it Nov. 16 when the state imposed a new stay-at-home order to address a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. That order closed nonessential businesses and placed restrictions on those allowed to remain open. That stay-at-home order has been replaced with a “Red to Green Framework” that sets restrictions on a county-by-county basis. Nearly every county in New Mexico, though, is in the highest, or “red,” category, including where Spaceport America is located. That category does allow nonessential businesses to open, but at significantly reduced capacity. Virgin Galactic said it would proceed with the test flight using only “essential personnel” at the spaceport. “Only essential staff will be on-site to support the pre-flight operations ahead of the flight and the day of flight,” the company said in a statement, adding that there will be no guests or media at the spaceport to witness the flight.