Virgin Galactic is getting ready to fly its first mission to space from its Spaceport America facility in New Mexico. This is the site that the company will use to host all of its commercial flights, and making it to space from this launch locale is crucial to getting to that point.
Earlier this year, Virgin Galactic successfully flew a number of tests of its SpaceShipTwo launch craft from New Mexico, but these didn’t include a trip to space. That launch, which will be performed by two of the company’s test pilots (while also carrying a number of experiments for the passenger hatch) should happen before the year is out, hopefully putting Virgin Galactic on pace to begin offering its commercial services next year to paying passengers.
Those private astronauts will include one newly announced individual: Dr. Alan Stern, a noted and well-regarded planetary scientist who has held a number of positions, and is most recently the associate Vice President of South West Research Institute’s Space Science and Engineering Division. Dr. Stern is the first researcher named to be flying on board Virgin Galactic’s commercial spacecraft on a NASA-funded science mission.
This won’t be the first of SpaceShipTwo’s commercial flights, it seems. Stern’s trip will take place on a “yet unscheduled” suborbital flight from Spaceport America in the future. Stern will be conducting two key pieces of science aboard the spacecraft, including actually wearing instrumentation that monitors his vital signs throughout, as well as using a low-light camera to see how well observing space from the vantage point of inside the SpaceShipTwo cabin works.