And they're aiming for this year.

By Cailey Rizzo
May 13, 2019
Virgin Galactic/Getty Images

Virgin Galactic may be sending the first commercial tourists to space from New Mexico by the end of the year.

Richard Branson’s space tourism company announced last week that it will move headquarters from Mojave California to Spaceport America, New Mexico.

“The first photograph of Earth from space was taken over New Mexico in October of 1946,” George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, said in a statement. “How inspiring and appropriate that the state will soon host the first regular commercial spaceflight service, which will enable thousands of people to see Earth from space with their own eyes.”

As part of the move, Virgin Galactic will transplant more than 100 employees and their families, plus the aircraft VMS Eve and spaceship VSS Unity over the summer. Virgin Galactic still must finalize the cabin design for its rocket ships before final test flights begin.

Spaceport America is the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world, located in the middle of the New Mexico desert, near the town of Truth or Consequences. The launch would make New Mexico one of the few places in the world to host regular human flights to space.

Virgin Galactic is planning a small number of final test flights in New Mexico but declined to reveal a date when commercial spaceflights will begin. In February, Virgin Galactic completed its first passenger test flight to suborbital space.

Virgin Galactic’s missions to space have been widely publicized and hotly anticipated over the past few years, but the launch dates have kept getting delayed. 

Among the first people on board the flights will be celebrities like Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio, who have already paid for their $250,000 tickets. Branson himself wants to be on the first commercial flight, which he previously hoped would happen in July, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch.

“Our future success as a species rests on the planetary perspective,” Branson told USA Today. “The perspective that we know comes sharply into focus when that planet is viewed from the black sky of space.”

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